Day 124: A Two-Part Adventure – Part II: A Turning Point
A Ray of Hope
About 8:45 a.m. the rain started to slacken and the sky in the west looked less ominous, which got me thinking about hiking. At 9:30, I headed out into a light drizzle, counting on the brighter western horizon to bring me some relief.
My goals for today included summiting Killington Peak, Vermont’s second highest mountain with a 3,000-foot ascent. I planned to stop at US 4, an 18.1-mile day, with almost 5,000 feet of total climbing. That would leave me with a 5.6-mile day tomorrow, setting me up for another 19-mile roadless trek the next day.
I’d given up hope that I’d catch a view from Killington, but still had a chance to at least dry out after delaying my start. In two days, I planned to cross the Connecticut River into New Hampshire with less than two weeks until our granddaughter’s visit.
Wading and Climbing
The rain had destroyed the trail. Vermont’s usual mud pit had become a stream, flowing between deep puddles under dripping trees and brush that hung low over the trail, smacking my face and clothes as I passed. Fortunately, I started climbing immediately, taking me from the boggy lowlands into more solid, rocky terrain.
The trail out of the Mill River Valley climbs 1,400 feet over two miles, with the bulk of the climb coming in two half-mile, 500-foot ascents. As I scrambled up the first steep section, I saw Queso and Hot Americano up ahead pondering how to get over a particularly steep rock slick with rain. Tiger stood above them calling out suggestions.
I stopped to talk with Tiger, who I hadn’t seen since the day after I left Duncannon. I looked around for Mystery Otter, but Tiger stunned me when said his friend left the trail due to a leg injury. Mystery Otter had hiked the PCT two years ago and planned to complete his triple crown on the CDT in 2026. One bad step.
Sunny Meadows and a Jedi Warrior
I popped out of the woods briefly, surprised by sunshine on open farm meadows buried in the deep green woods. I have a long history of talking to cows, but when I stopped to chat with them about the weather and apologize for what I’d done to their cousins at yesterday’s barbeque, I noticed bright lines of light crossing their innocent faces.
It wasn’t them, it was me. A migraine aura. Now THAT’s what a rainy 18-mile, 5000-foot day needs – a migraine. My migraines aren’t as debilitating as they were forty years ago, but I still can’t see well for about a half hour and usually feel washed out for the rest of the day. Oh well, hikers hike, so I hiked on taking extra care on foot placement and anything that relied on my vision.
I ran into Cryptic Jedi at the Cold River Road crossing as he returned from deli blazing to the Stone’s Throw Farmstand. I hadn’t met him before but had heard his name from Voices and J-Mo. Cryptic hikes with the Warrior Project, a group that helps veterans assimilate to civilian life through long distance hiking.
Cryptic added the “Jedi” to his trail name after someone saw him literally stare down a tree. He told me he was looking around a tree to find the next blaze when the entire tree fell over directly away from him. The stunned bystander asked if he’d used the Force and his name was born.
Cryptic and I hiked together, chatting off and on as we went. I was happy for the company at the two unbridged crossings of Gould Creek, which was flowing above normal due to the morning’s rains. No dry routes across were available, so we plunged into the shin deep water and waded safely across.
We’d both had swift water training and knew the still-clear, but fast-flowing water was fordable since we could see the stream bed and everything we’d be stepping on. I emerged with wet socks and shoes, glad that Gus had stayed home today. As a bonus, my pants legs were cleaner than they’d been for a week, if only for the next few minutes before we hit the next mud bog.
What Do You Think of the Trail?
At the 500-Miles-to-Katahdin marker, we ran into a Long Trail Ridgerunner who proudly asked us what we thought of his section of trail. Cryptic and I looked at each other, uncertain how to answer that question, even though we’d been discussing that exact topic for nearly an hour. Cryptic diplomatically suggested the last wet crossing could use a cable to hang on to.
The Ridgerunner turned to me. “Uh,” I said hesitantly, “It’s … as good as any other section of Trail in Vermont.” Cryptic snorted, but fortunately, the Ridgerunner took it as a compliment.
Cryptic hung back to chat with the Ridgerunner, but I moved on with less than 500 miles to go. At first, 500 miles seemed like Katahdin was just around the corner. Then, I thought about how long it had taken to get to the 500-mile mark in Virginia and what kind of terrain lay between me and the end of the trail. 500 miles is still a long walk.
A few minutes later I walked past the 1,700-mile marker which someone had built from sticks alongside the muddy path. By that point, I’d begun the 3,000-foot climb up to Killington Peak, so I only lingered for a minute, just long enough to film Cryptic almost hike right by without seeing the marker.
A Turning Point
I felt great on the six-mile climb, even with wet feet from the two river crossings, post-migraine malaise, and the off-and-on drizzle and storybook mists that kept me from drying out. At the trail’s high point near the Cooper Lodge (shelter), a trail sign surprised me with the realization that the AT didn’t actually summit Killington. The sign pointed me toward a 0.2-mile blue blaze trail to the summit which was another 331 feet higher than the junction point.
I stood at the junction in a light drizzle with wet mists swirling around me. Except for a few brief windows, the skies had been cloudy and rainy all day. What was the point of making a steep (31%) climb to stare at the insides of clouds in a cold, wet wind? I’d seen enough cloudy summits in Vermont.
But something urged me to go. It might have been No Name’s comment yesterday that he planned on blue blazing all the summits in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It might have been the fact that I’d already climbed 99% of Killington Peak. Finally, I told myself it was only 0.2 miles. At least I could say I was there.
Another Cloudy Summit?
The blue blaze path to the top was easily as steep, rocky, and slick as anything I’d hiked on the AT so far. As expected, when I got to the summit, clouds blanketed the towers and blocked out any views. I stood on the glacially carved granitic peak and stared into the white nothingness, preparing to climb back down to the AT.
And then I thought I saw a faint outline of the next mountain range through the fog, making it the best mountaintop view I’d had in Vermont. Then I looked down and caught a clear view of a river winding across the valley floor, thousands of feet below. Next, I started seeing individual wisps of clouds racing by, as if the cloud bank were breaking apart.
Five minutes later, just as Cryptic crested the summit, the sky broke open, giving us clear views in all directions capped by wild storm clouds painted over a bright blue background. We looked out in awe between the clouds, both above and below us, as well as in every direction around us. Then, just as suddenly, clouds socked in the summit again.
I hiked off the summit triumphantly, completely energized by what I’d experienced. I practically floated down the mountain, so excited I forgot to eat lunch. At some point during today’s excitement, my weeks-long funk dissipated like the clouds on the summit. This was fun. It was an adventure again.
Two and a half miles from the summit junction, the AT branches again. To the right, the official AT follows a newly built alignment described as being “in better condition.” To the left, the old AT, which is now a blue blazed trail, skirts along the edge of the Pico Mountain Ski Resort. That trail is described as having “better views” though it is less well-maintained and harder to follow. The mileage along either option is about the same.
Cryptic, Matt, and another LT hiker had stopped at the junction, but were all sticking to the official trail. I wished them the joy of purity as they departed, but for me, it was an easy choice. I’ll take the views and the wilder trail every time. I’ve found that taking the less traveled road feels wilder, more adventurous, and more like backcountry hiking.
An Inkling of an Idea
My blue blaze took me directly to The Inn at the Long Trail, though it failed to deliver on any views. I’d originally planned to finish at US4 near the Inn, an iconic AT stop due to its hiker-friendly hospitality and its location at the split between Vermont’s Long Trail and the AT. But somewhere on the descent, I saw an opportunity.
Northstar had been feeling down for a few days and needed some TLC. I’d hoped to take care of that during tomorrow’s 5.6-mile nearo day. What if I combined today’s hike with tomorrow’s nearo and gave her (and me) an unplanned day off?
I called her and asked her preference. She was all over that like mud, stink, and mosquitos on a Vermont hiker. Well, no, not like that. Something better. But you get the idea. She was happy.
My legs still felt good, but I had five miles to get to tomorrow’s meetup location. Midway through the extra miles, I passed through Gifford Woods State Park and saw a sign for the ALDHA (Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association) trail magic. Because of my delayed start and the extra miles, I was racing the sunset, but I needed a cold drink.
I walked into their campsite to find a dozen hikers and magicians, none of whom I’d met before. The host looked me up and down, clearly trying to decide if I was a thru-hiker. I could see him considering my “tiny” pack and my relatively clean-shaven face and trimmed beard, but then he settled in on my mud-caked pants and shoes, and said, “Well, you’re muddy enough to be a thru hiker” and offered me something from the grill. They welcomed me in, gave me a chair, handed me the sign-in log, and pointed me at the cooler. They even had my drink of preference, an ice-cold lime La Croix.
That was the first time in 1,712 miles that I’d been identified as a thru hiker by a stranger.
- Start: (VT 103, Mile 1,691.4)
- End: (River Road, Mile 1,714.7)
- Weather: Rain in the morning, rain but sunny with clouds in the afternoon
- Earworm: None. Thank you, Book 8 of the Cradle series.
- Meditation: Ps 23
- Plant of the Day: Apple tree
- Best Thing: A view from Killington Peak
- Worst Thing: Tired feet
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