Day 126: Back on the Trail
What Are You Doing Here?
Hikers dominated the breakfast room at the Inn. Pony and Soup had one table with two new friends, plus Matt the Long Trail hiker, who’d taken a zero and joined them. Hikers filled four other tables. At least I assumed they were thru-hiking based on the snippets of conversation I overheard. Nobody else would be that interested in gear and miles.
I didn’t see him when we came in, but when he got up to leave, I saw No Name. I’d thought he’d be a day ahead of me after our zero. I knew he planned to stay one night at the Inn, but figured he’d moved on already. No, he told us, he got up yesterday morning, saw the weather, and decided it was time for a zero.
But today he’d be starting from the Inn, nearly five miles behind me, and probably wouldn’t catch up to me for another day.
Northstar’s Shuttle Service
After breakfast, Northstar drove me back to River Road where I’d stopped two days ago. As we pulled out of the Inn’s parking lot, Pony’s new friend flagged us down and asked for a ride to the Base Camp Outfitter down the highway. No problem. We’ve given a ton of rides to hikers.
After a late breakfast, some last-minute chores, and some shuttling, I didn’t hit the trail until 9:00 a.m. Given my 18.1-mile itinerary, I’d probably finish late too.
Today’s goals were simple. I wanted to log miles toward New Hampshire and check off another day until our granddaughter arrives. With a great weather forecast today, I didn’t need much other motivation.
Dry and Muddy
Weather sure makes a difference. The forecast called for no rain, cool temperatures, and nice puffy clouds in a blue sky. Great hiking weather, except for the humidity. The trail was slick from yesterday’s rain and the trail mud had been refreshed to maximum Vermont levels, but there was still less of it than I’d slogged around most of last week.
As I skirted around one large mud bog, I stepped over a fallen log and my foot started to slide, twisting my knee. But I caught myself with my trekking poles, leaning backwards and holding on for all I was worth. I could have easily torn up my knee on that one, which would have ended my hike. That is why I always use two poles. They’ve saved me more times than I can count.
Ladders and Dogs
Later, I encountered my first trail ladder. I have no idea why the trail just doesn’t go a different way, but it didn’t. Instead, it went straight over a 12-foot vertical cliff. The AT geniuses that picked that alignment had tied an aluminum extension ladder to the cliff and put a little white blaze on it to let us know that was the way down. I’m okay with ladders, but Gus was skeptical.
Usually, I’ll just let him find his own way down the steep sections, but today I was worried he’d jump when he saw me get to the bottom. Last summer, he jumped off our second story deck trying to reach his four-footed nemesis next door. Northstar saw him go over the railing and ran out expecting the 13-foot drop to have cost him a broken leg, but he was just a little mad that he hadn’t cleared the neighbor’s fence.
Today, however, I coaxed him over to the ladder and carried him down in my arms.
Even though once again the trail didn’t provide any scenic vistas, unless you count the same old view of green trees, it did serve up a few differences. I saw a hobblebush with red leaves. In Georgia, hobblebush blossoms were harbingers of Spring. In Vermont, perhaps they’re signaling the beginning of Fall color.
The trail was different in one other way today. It was empty. All those mud-loving, fresh-faced, optimistic Long Trail riffraff were gone, split off to the north for another two hundred miles of Vermont muck and gnats.
Flooded River Crossings
Every brook ran high today after all the recent rain. I crossed at least three unbridged streams, once by jumping from stone to stone and twice on wobbly logs. In July, a thru-hiker named Steady Eddy drowned trying to ford a flooded stream crossing. The folks at the Inn told us he’d been warned to stay in that day. A poster with his picture and a memorial poem stuck to a tree marked the crossing where he lost his life. Fortunately, none of today’s crossings were anywhere close to flood levels.
I worked a civil litigation case in Arizona in the late 90’s where a flash flood flipped a carload of Boy Scouts that had been stuck in a stream crossing. The surviving mom’s deposition, where she described being swept down the flooded stream, was the most emotionally draining thing I’ve ever read.
After their SUV flipped, she watched her son get swept away while she tumbled down the rocky stream herself. She grabbed another boy only to have to let him go after his panicked thrashing knocked her off her feet and sent them back into the current. The boy she let go drowned, as did two other boys and another adult. Only after hours of searching did she find her son, who survived but was injured and severely traumatized.
Stay out of flooded river crossings.
Dang it, FarOut
As I got close to our meetup spot, I took a quick look at the FarOut app to check the distance. Only 1.5 miles. Sweet. I texted Northstar to let her know I’d been there in 30 minutes.
After walking 20 more minutes, I didn’t feel like I’d made progress toward the valley bottom, so I looked at FarOut again. 2.6 miles to go.
FarOut got me again. I hadn’t waited long enough for FarOut to refresh my GPS location. It’s a glitch in its software. When you first open it up, it always plots your position inaccurately and then computes the remaining distance based on the wrong location. Heartbreaking.
Northstar was hanging out with a small crowd outside the van when I finally arrived at the VT 12 parking area. She had the sack chairs set up and was in the middle of a lively conversation. Most of the crowd were southbounders, but all of them had just come back from a bakery/deli a short walk down the highway.
A young lady named Fearless occupied our other sack chair. Northstar had met her at the bakery and helped rescue her from a pesky pink blazer. Pink blazing is following a female hiker in hopes of romance. Northstar described the guy as having a hungry look, and not in a good way. Fearless wanted a ride to West Hartford, 14 miles up the trail, so we packed up and delivered her, listening to her story along the way.
She’s from Switzerland and had intended to hike from Pennsylvania to Maine but was having a rough go. Besides her pink blazing would-be suitor, her hiking partner had just quit the trail after becoming disenchanted with the weather, bugs, and trail conditions. Fearless said that what she called the monotony of the trail had taken its toll on her too, and that she’d found most thru-hikers to be unwelcoming because she was a section hiker, not counting her amorous pink blazing friend.
Given all that, she was in remarkably good spirits. She hoped that our yellow blazing ride would not only put her far enough ahead of the pink blazer but would help her catch the group she’d fallen behind to hike with her slower ex-hiking partner.
Fearless had no idea where in West Hartford she wanted to go, so we pulled into the local library’s parking lot across from the White River Bridge. I noticed a public Wi-Fi sign on their kiosk, so we decided to park there for a few hours rather return to VT 12, where we only had sporadic cell service.
Just before sunset, as we packed up to return, Fearless knocked on the door. Two ladies in the house next door to the library had seen her looking at her map and had invited her up to their porch for rice pudding. Then they’d offered her a tent spot in their backyard. She came by with some chocolate as payment for the ride.
All in all, that was a pretty good day.
- Start: River Road (Mile 1,714.7)
- End: VT 12 (Mile 1,732.9)
- Weather: Cool, partly cloudy, breezy, drier.
- Earworm: Touch Me Babe (The Doors)
- Meditation: Jn 1:1
- Plant of the Day: Shining Firmoss
- Best Thing: Chance encounters – No Name and Fearless
- Worst Thing: Mud
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