Day 116: Great Barrington, MA to Melville Nauheim Shelter
It took three hitches to get from Great Barrington, MA to Bennington, VT, and one final one to get to the trail head on Route 9, but at last, I unfolded my trekking poles and got my feet back on the trail. I’d walked a few miles on the roads, and the first shelter is only a mile and a half from the road, bur a four mile day sounded about right to my sore ankle.
This little section of the trail, from the road up to the shelter, is familiar to me. I’ve hiked it several times. When I was 100 pounds overweight I hiked it the first time and I remember feeling completely annihilated. I had to stop several times on the stone steps; I was embarrassed by how out of shape I was, and I felt like I had no energy left at all when I got to the shelter. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, and so did my pride. When I started getting in shape to hike the trail, I remembered this little stretch and I came back, 60 pounds lighter. The difference was significant. I still had to stop once or twice but I felt stronger and energized at the top of the hill. Now, with so much of the trail behind me, I was facing this uphill climb from the road one more time, with a weak ankle, but I’ve got a lot more grit than I did when I started hiking. And now, this hill just doesn’t seem like much. I went up slowly, because I was trying to place weight properly on my foot and not roll my ankle to one side, but the climb never felt challenging. It felt good.
That was actually an emotional climb for me. To have changed so much, physically, over the last two years, to be so much stronger now and so much happier with myself, is really phenomenal. I could have chosen to stay the way I was, but instead, here I am, climbing mountains, overcoming some of the most difficult situations I’ve faced, and I think I’ve found a bigger heart inside me than I realized I had before.
Anyway. I’ve heard some complaints about that climb, but I’m really sort of fond of it. It’s gorgeous right from the start, and has some really charming, whimsical moments, like when the trail makes a hard turn so it can route through the middle of a cracked boulder rather than around it.
I got to the shelter around six, and met some sobos (Jesse, Guillotine, Pumpkin, and Curls) and a nobo named Turtle, who started in late May. I made a very skeptical face about his trail name, but he maintains he walks really slowly, and just hikes long days. Tomorrow will be a bit longer, so we’ll see how 8.5 miles feels on this ankle.
Day 117: Melville Nauheim Shelter to Goddard Shelter
It wasn’t too bad! When I walk, my ankle has that loose tooth feeling: it feels sore but good at the same time. Uphills are easiest, there is the least strain there. Downhill is my slowest terrain. But I stopped every hour and gave my ankle a nice long rest, and it would be good to go again. It was definitely getting tired by the time I stopped for the night, though, so I know I have a ways to go before I’m back to normal.
I love Vermont so far. The trail is absolutely gorgeous. The woods here have a very different feel, because the trees are closer together and there’s lots of undergrowth, so the woods feel denser and closer than they did to the south. Moss also grows rampant here, which always makes a place seem older to me, somehow.
I really liked the last uphill today, a steep climb with lots of stone steps that just looked charming as heck. I feel like fairy tales would live here. I kept expecting to see trolls, haha.
Everything feels more remote here too. There was only one view today, up on Porcupine Ridge, and it’s the first view I’ve seen in a long time with nothing man made in sight. Just mountains and trees, no roads, no houses, nothing. I’ve noticed there aren’t as many road crossings either. I love it. Hopefully my ankle will finish strengthening up soon so I can concentrate less on it and more on what’s around me, because it is worth seeing.
When I got to Goddard Shelter I had a great time chatting with Tortuga and Purple Sprain, two northbounders I’ve seen a lot in the shelter logs but never met until today. A sobo named Pancake showed up as they were getting ready to leave, and she and I talked for about two hours before she finally headed out. I wish she and I were hiking the same way! We have a very similar sense of humor and she’s a ton of fun.
Anyway, it’s way past my bedtime now, at 8:30. As soon as I started hiking alone again I reverted to my old hiking habits. It’s nice in some respects but still…it’s a bit lonely.
Day 118: Goddard Shelter to Kid Gore Shelter
I feel like there is any forest in the country where a sense of magic still survives, it’s here on the section of the AT that overlaps the Long Trail. It’s forest with real personality. The trees twist over the trail, and each other, or reach their roots over rocks and spill onto the the path. The trail itself bends this way and that, over steams and moss-laden boulders and pits of black mud, and it feels quieter as I walk along it than elsewhere.
The colors here are beautiful, too. There are the usual endless varieties of gray and brown and green, and an occasional birch adds silver, blush, coral, and rose from its peeling bark. The undergrowth has green leaves tinged with purple, and red and blue berries pop against them. Tiny white bell-shaped flowers rise on thick, fuzzy white stems from emerald-green moss, and different mushrooms and other fungi add a range that goes from white to crimson all the way to black. Fallen leaves add rich golden browns and pale yellows. Everywhere I look it’s a visual feast. The forest has a rich palette.
I didn’t go far today, only 4.3 miles, which in some ways was frustrating, because I can remember when walking wasn’t a challenge, but in others, today was one of the happiest of my whole life because I was really there, not thinking about what was coming up, or trying to race the daylight to my destination. When I left Goddard Shelter this morning, a quick, beautiful third of a mile brought me to the summit of Glastenbury Mountain, and the fire tower that rose out of the spruce forest there. I dropped my pack and climbed up, and spent quite a bit of time looking out over the panoramic views. Hundreds of birds were flying from tree top to tree top, wheeling, diving, chasing each other, but totally out of sight from the forest floor. Leaning out the window, watching them and soaking in the sunlight, it was a moment that felt right, like I was given a new perspective of the world, a bird’s perspective, and for a little while I was looking through a window into a perfect place.
On my way down the trail, I saw my first wood grouse, or a pair of them to be exact. They are fairly timid so it felt pretty special to see them strutting around in a clearing to my left. I stayed as still as I could, but they flew away as soon as they noticed me. Still, pretty neat to be able to see something new like that.
When I got to the shelter today I was delighted to find that it has an amazing view, due east. Sunrise tomorrow is going to be something special. I saw Gisli there (a young man from Iceland hiking the LT, who stayed at Goddard Shelter last night), and Batchelor, who I haven’t met before but who has met several hikers I know, so we had a good time comparing notes, and also Sherpa rolled in for a break! I haven’t seen him since Damascus. I heard he got off the trail at Harpers Ferry and he told me this is his second day back, he’s planning to do the last three states and just skip the middle section of the trail. It was good to see him again.
They’ve all gone now, and it’s just me here, and a red squirrel who pokes his head around the corner of the shelter to stare at me every few minutes. It’s so quiet. I can hear every sound the breeze makes in the trees, and the sound of twigs and leaves falling to the forest floor. What a peaceful, happy day. But I keep thinking of things to say, and turning around to say them to one of my friends, only to remember that I’m on my own for now.
Day 119: Kid Gore Shelter to Story Spring Shelter
After I finished writing my update last night, Sota showed up at the shelter with his friend Kelsey, and it was so nice to chat with a friend after all, when I thought I’d have a quiet night to myself. Kelsey is pretty hilarious too, so together the three of us had a good time. A hiker named Eagle Eye showed up around 12:30 a.m. after we were all asleep, as well, so this morning was lively.
It was another slow, beautiful day today, starting with a spectacular sunrise this morning. The east-facing view from Kid Gore did not disappoint.
The trail was so nice. I like the variety in the terrain: the quick ups and downs and bends, the mud pits and the stone tumbles and the root steps, the creeks and springs everywhere. It stays interesting, and the variety is good for my ankle, it gets exercise from every angle and I am forced to use it instead of favoring it when I don’t need to. The Achilles’ tendon was stiff this morning, and some of the muscles feel sore on the downhills, but the swelling is mostly gone and I’m definitely getting much stronger: walking feels mostly normal again.
There were times today when I felt like I was underwater in a green ocean instead of in the woods. The pine forests were so quiet; I heard a chickadee occasionally in the far distance, but not even a chipmunk could be found near me. All I could hear was the susurration of the constant breeze through the pines or brushing through the occasional birch or maple, and it sounded like the murmur of waves.
When I stopped at this shelter, it was still fairly early in the day. Eagle Eyes stopped for lunch and we were chatting when Feel Good hiked up the hill, followed shortly after by Frisky. I like those two guys immensely, and I’m so glad I got to see them again! Hopefully when I pick up the pace I’ll run into them some more, they are great fun.
I can’t state enough how much I love this section of trail. It feels like home, like I belong here, in a way that’s different than any other section so far.
Tomorrow will be a bigger day, 12 miles and up and over Stratton Mountain, where Benton McKaye first got his inspiration for the trail. Out here in the Vermont woods, I can see why he thought it was a great idea.
Day 120: Story Spring Shelter to campsite on Winhall River (75% through the trail)
So the good news is, my ankle handled the increased mileage really well. No new swelling or soreness. In fact, the swelling is almost all gone. The bad news is that my ankle is still stiff and I’m still slow, but I’m working on not being too impatient about it because hey, I’m still hiking and that’s great news.
Today’s hike took me over Stratton Mountain, and the walking was as lovely as it has been the last few days. The 3.6 miles from the shelter to the road at the base of the mountain was easy peasy, some big boulders but that just adds to the fun. When I got to the road, a man who finished his thru in September, Mike R., was grilling hot dogs for hikers in the parking lot…he offered to cook a few for me, and when I said thanks but explained I don’t eat pork or beef, he smiled and pulled a bag of veggie dogs out of his cooler. I had two, and it was a great snack break before the three mile climb to the summit. People who give trail magic are the best. Best, best, best.
I didn’t honestly pay too much attention on the climb, because I had a post-hot dog brain wave about an idea for a children’s book that I’m really excited about, and I just set my pace on autopilot and chugged along up the mountain while I ironed out the details for the plot and problem-solved how I might illustrate it. I do know that I emerged from my deep think a few times on the way up, mostly just to look around me at the changing forest (pines to birches and maples and back again), and once to roll my eyes at a group of well-manicured day hikers standing in the middle of the trail yakking and forcing everyone else to climb up the embankment to get around them.
When I got to the summit, it was so crowded! I forgot it was a weekend, and there were a ton of people enjoying the nice weather with a day hike, including one really nice family who gave me trail mix (with cashews! And cranberries!) and an apple. The little children kept offering me chocolate, which I didn’t take because I think the squares where their own personal pieces, but it was super cute. The uncle to those kids was stunningly handsome, too, which always helps me to feel especially grubby, but it was fun to chat with the whole family.
The caretaker told me there was a log book at the base of the fire tower, and asked me to sign it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. So instead I climbed up to the top to look at the views, which were, as I expected, pretty amazing. From there I took off down the mountain, which wasn’t as hard on my ankle as yesterday’s downhills were. I’ll take that as a definite sign of improvement. I stopped in at Stratton Pond and chatted with the caretaker there as well. We explained to a couple the reason thru hikers fist bump instead of shaking hands (in the words of the caretaker “thru hikers are dirty, you don’t want to touch them.” I’d be hurt but it’s sort of true).
Two miles later, I crossed the footbridge over Winhall River, and found a fantastic campsite on a little island in the middle of the river. It’s a great place to end my day. Tomorrow is a shorter day again, just to keep the strain down, but I think by the time I hit Rutland on the eighth I’ll be ready to hike normal miles again. Looking forward to it.
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