Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

What we do as thru-hikers is tough.  I have taken this for granted as I grew up hiking long weekends several times a year in Georgia and North Carolina. It was just something I did with my dad and friends. Being out here now, day in and day out, I have a different perspective on the whole adventure. People are giving up four to six (or more) months of their lives to do this, leaving jobs and families. It takes serious dedication to get up every day and take what the Trail gives you. A positive attitude goes a long way in helping you through the struggles. “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle.” Eric Idle was a true visionary with that line. If you can’t find some humor when you’re struggling, it’s going to be a long trip.

Summit of Mount Cube. Wonderful view, I’m told. Legend also says a cottontail rabbit with a vicious streak a mile wide also lives here. Didn’t see it, either.

Even Thinking about some of the sayings that make the AT famous, quite a few have a negative connotation. “No pain, no rain, no Maine,” “Rocksylvannia,” and “Vermud” come to mind. I’ll make it a point to highlight what I liked about each state.

Catching up for this new trend, I enjoyed the people and views of Maine. Also, the views in New Hampshire were amazing. Also, they have a great weight loss program for your waistline and your wallet.

This segment saw a few milestones. I passed 400 and 500 miles (two miles from 600, now), passed the 25% mark, finished the White Mountains with a climb over Moosilauke, and completed New Hampshire and Vermont. While the hardest parts are behind me, there are still plenty of challenges ahead. I think these experiences and positive thinking will propel me along.

Crossing the Connecticut River from New Hampshire into Vermont

What I Liked About Vermont

– Green Mountains. Truth in advertising, the mountains are green. New Hampshire claims to have White Mountains, but I found them to be mostly brown and gray. The Green Mountains are indeed the greenest of green.

Look at all the greenness!

– The Green Tunnel. A lot of people have trouble walking all day and only seeing the forest. Vermont’s forest is beautiful, and I find wonderful things to look at without the distant vistas. The Vermont woods are fairly open, allowing you to see into it a good distance. I’ve seen four deer, a turkey, and many songbirds. My experience was different in Maine and New Hampshire, either because the forest is too thick or I was busy looking at each foot placement.

The dreaded “green tunnel”

– General lack of mud. I say this with the experience of Maine and New Hampshire behind me, but Vermont was mostly easy hiking. There was some mud towards the end, but nothing like people make it out to be.  My speed and morale increased in spite of a little mud.

– Crabapples and blackberries free for the taking. Great instant energy and morale boost.

– The people. Easy to catch hitches. People in town will virtually offer to be your personal guide to help you get some food and restock. Plus all the trail magic!

Trail Magic and Trail Angels

I had my first experience back in New Hampshire’s White Mountains when a nice lady named Julie was hiking with a bag full of cokes. The next instances happened in a bit of a barrage in West Hartford, VT. First, Mr. Woods gave me a banana and talked about world affairs. Then, ten minutes later, Linda had farm fresh hardboiled eggs and coffee ready for hungry hikers. More than that, though, she was a great listener and let me vent on some issues I still struggle with. A few days later, an older couple had lunch meat, bread, chips, and drinks laid out for hikers at a road crossing.

The most amazing trail magic experience I had was actually alone. In Lyme, NH, Bill Ackerly used to give away ice cream to hikers passing by his house 50 yards from the AT. He died in 2016, but the trail magic lives on! Someone continues to this day stocking freezer at Bill’s house with ice cream sandwiches and popsicles. It was a great treat to enjoy an ice cream and look through the old yearbooks from the Ice Cream Man’s visits.

All of these trail angels people took their time and money to help a bunch of strangers make their day better. Many of them do this for the entire hiking season. As I move south past the NOBO bubble, the magic will likely dry up. I’m happy to have experienced what I got because I never expected much.

On Expectations

While hiking the cruisiest of trails, I was contemplating why I feel strange. Not my body. It hurts all over, every step. That’s normal. I feel strange emotionally, like I don’t know what to do with myself. For the first time in my life, no one has any expectations of me. I can eat whatever I want, sleep when I want, walk as few or many miles as I want. Take a nap at 9:00 a.m.? Sure! You gotta listen to your body, right? Pig out on pizza and cheesecake in town? Word! After 20 years in the Army with daily expectations from my bosses, colleagues, and soldiers, this feeling of no expectations is liberating. And a bit weird. I’m still getting used to it, but it’s a great feeling to experiment with.

Even so, there are still expectations. My family expects me to make an honest effort in making miles towards Georgia. They also expect me to conduct myself within my physical limits. I generally succeed most of the time in meeting these. Fellow hikers expect me to behave a certain way, but this is a very broad range. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy would like me to act a certain way. While still having expectations, these are very wide ranges of behavior I can operate within. I do enjoy it very much and will not yet entertain thoughts on when I will return to the “real world.”

I’m heading into some shorter states now, which is exciting as I’ll feel like I’m making good progress. Happy Trails until I get some more good material!

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