Day 121: Campsite at Winhall River to Spruce Peak Shelter
Another easy, gentle day today. Not much to add that I haven’t said already, at length, about Vermont. I will talk about Spruce Pine Shelter, though, which is pretty fancy. It has a sliding door, windows, and a wood burning stove. That’s about as upgraded as you can get out here. There’s a beautiful piped spring, too. I love it! I would love to live in a log cabin in the woods like this forever, as long as I could do it without relegating myself to an endless menu of Knorr sides and ramen. I think my body is seriously offended by the hiker diet at this point. I don’t feel good after eating anymore. I’m stopping in at Manchester Center tomorrow for a resupply, and I’m going to see about getting some real fruits and vegetables back in my diet for the three day (still taking it easy!) walk to Rutland. And of course, there’s a Ben and Jerry’s in town, since this is Vermont, and I could use a little more dairy back in my life, too…
Anyway, I enjoyed the walk today. I’m moving a little bit faster than yesterday, but I think my elastic brace has worn out, and isn’t offering much support anymore. I’ll pick up an ace bandage in town too, so I can bolster up the area above my anklebone again.
Day 122: Spruce Peak Shelter to Bromley Shelter
The mice last night were a little bit out of control. I woke up at one point, with the hairs on the back of my neck prickling, to see the largest, fattest mouse I’ve ever laid eyes on sitting inches from my nose, staring quizzically at me. I shooed him away, and spent twenty minutes watching some other mice chase each other over the wood stove, and try to get at my food bag, which was hanging directly above it. A couple of mice ran over my sleeping bag, and I’m pretty sure there were one or two inside my pack during the night, which I foolishly left on the floor. I was glad when morning came, and there was no damage to any of my gear. Could have been worse. Neither John, an experienced section hiker from northern Vermont, nor Tallboy, a southbound thru hiker, noticed anything, and both slept through the whole circus.
The hiking in the morning was enjoyable, and brief: only 2.8 miles into VT 11 & 30, where I was planning on hitching into Manchester Center. When I reached the road, though, I was greeted by a fairly ominous sign…
In spite of the dire warnings, I made it across just fine and caught a ride in to town in about three minutes. Manchester Center is very tourist-centric, lots of outlet type stores, but they have two decent outfitters, and I got my laundry done ($7.25 to wash!! Highway robbery). I grabbed my resupply and a coffee and a pastry, and a couple offered me a ride back to the trail head from the EMS parking lot. They had a super friendly dog named Sadie who crawled into my lap as soon as she got into the truck and stayed there, trying to lick my face, for the whole ride back. The couple said that was pretty unusual, but what can I say? Dogs like me, and I probably tasted like banana bread.
I went halfway up Bromley Mountain, two miles from the road, to the shelter there, which was well-built and clean, and featured a porch with wide benches, where I immediately decided I was going to sleep, instead of inside the shelter proper. John was there again, and a young man named Michael who is hiking the Long Trail, as well as a southbound LT hiker named Princess Doah. This shelter is almost at maximum capacity, princess-wise.
Shortly after I got there, a group of college freshmen I had passed coming up arrived, a pre-orientation group from Princeton. I’ve heard some hiker horror stories about these groups, but this one was very pleasant. I hope when I went on one as a college freshman I did alright with the thru-hikers I met, too. Michael and I docked them a few points, though, for packing in a whole bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s and leaving it untouched through dinner. That’s a heavy condiment! Use it!
Day 123: Bromley Shelter to Lost Pond Shelter
There were some nice climbs today. The rest of Bromley Mountain was steep, but only a mile, and the views from the top were sweeping. It was so windy up there that I cooled down almost immediately. The downhill was a little hard on my ankle, which seems to be the case more often than not: uphill is easy, downhill isn’t, but it is definitely better with the ace bandage.
Styles Peak was a great climb. The top led through a pine forest, and the stillness was intense. It was so deep that it was easy to believe that I was alone in the world, the only living creature in a world shaken only by the wind in the pines. I slowed to a standstill, completely taken in by the silence, and stayed there for several minutes until a chickadee gave a single call far down the hill, and broke the moment.
After crossing Peru Peak and climbing down to the shelter there, I ran into Michael again, and we took a lunch break together. An older gentleman named Snake Pit came in as we were finishing and I talked with him for a few minutes, but he’s a bit overwhelming for an introvert like me, very loud and super enthusiastic. Not bad qualities, but I needed some down time very quickly so I hiked on. The rest of the trail was very, very easy, past Griffith Lake, and, I thought, all flat or downhill from there.
There was one surprise climb toward the end at Baker’s Peak, which didn’t look like much on the elevation profile, but I probably should have been warned by the existence of a bypass trail. The summit is all bare glacial rocks and a very cool climb to a phenomenal view.
Lost Pond Shelter has, apparently, burned down four times over its history, although I’m not sure how. There is also, and I possibly could have foreseen this, no pond. Michael and I stopped there, and Snake Pit and his friend Earth Dog came in later on. We had a nice talk over dinner, and I climbed into my sleeping bag in the shelter as two sobos, Flatlander (or Mismatch, depending on the day) and Shakespeare came in.
Day 124: Lost Pond Shelter to campsite at Bully Brook
When I woke up this morning, another nobo had snuck into the shelter late at night, named The Don. I’m still amazed how many hikers are out around me that I haven’t met.
Today should have been an easy ten mile day, but it turned into closer to sixteen, because I thought I’d be able to get a hitch into Danby for a package pickup, and while I got a ride part of the way down from Special K’s mom, I had to walk all the way back up. So, today was longer. But it was good to know that I could do the miles, even though my ankle felt pretty tender in the evening.
Once I picked up my package of winter clothes and an awesome letter from a friend, and (finally) got back on the trail, I ran into a Putney School group hiking down from Little Rock Pond, and had a nice time chatting with them. The students were engaging and curious, and obviously pretty bright, and even though I was hot from my road walk back to the trail it was fun to answer their questions.
The hike up to Little Rock Pond was a smooth, easy uphill. It almost felt flat. And the pond was seriously gorgeous. I would have loved to stopped for a swim but I was starting to get worried about time, since my side trip into town had taken about three hours longer than expected.
The last hill of the day took me up through a pine forest. The trail was lined with tiny pines, buttressed by their fifty-foot-tall parent trees, and the trail was carpeted with generations of needles and was spongy and soft to walk on. There were two sections on that hill crest covered with an assortment of stone cairns built by hikers, and at the second one, the number 500 was spelled out in the white stones. It’s not actually the “500 miles left” marker this year, closer to 513, but it was still exciting. I stopped for a few minutes to look at all the cairns, and after a pause, I built my own. It’s the first time I’ve deliberately left a small, anonymous sign of my passing on this hike, and it’s nice to think that even if no one knows it’s me, there’s a tiny part of the trail that’s mine now. I walked on, and left it behind.
The descent to Bully Brook was steep, and my ankle was definitely feeling it by the time I got to the campsite. I had dinner with Michael again, and fell asleep quickly.
Day 125: Bully Brook campsite to the Yellow Deli in Rutland, VT
Michael and I hiked together in the morning. His knee is bothering him and my ankle is still slowing me down, so we ambled up the side of Bear Mountain, which was an easy climb thanks to the number of switchbacks, and down to the Minerva Hinchey Shelter for a snack break. That’s where he got his trail name. He had picked up a pine branch to use as a walking stick for his knee that morning, and joked that it did not, contrary to all expectations, make him feel more like a wizard. He promptly left it behind at the shelter, and had to run back to get it. When he walked back towards me, he flourished it like a staff, and a chipmunk burst from the ground at his feet like he had shot it out of his walking stick. And that’s how he was named Radagast, after the wizard in Tolkien’s works who has such an affinity with wild animals.
From the shelter it was a fairly gentle hike downhill to VT 103, although we were slowed down by one or two steep sections. Right before the road, there is a suspension bridge over Mill River, and it was the most fun to walk over. I stopped in the middle and bounced up and down like a madwoman, making the whole bridge buck. It was a little bit like jumping on a water mattress (remember those?!) and if there hadn’t been other people waiting to get across I absolutely would have played on it for half an hour.
Radagast and I walked down 103 to Qu’s Whistle Stop Restaurant, which is closing at the end of September. That’s a shame for future hikers, although they don’t know it. The proprietor is great to hikers, and the food is good. They’ll be missed. After lunch, Radagast and I parted ways, he to continue hiking and I to hitch into Rutland for a day off at the Yellow Deli Hiker Hostel. The third car that passed pulled over for me and I was settled in and clean in the hostel within an hour.
Everyone who came south was telling me about the Yellow Deli, and now I see why. The group that runs it is made up of really warm-hearted people who go the extra mile to make hikers feel welcome. I’m having a wonderful time here, and I’ve met some more southbound hikers I like.
One of the most amazing and surreal moments of my hike so far was provided by one of them: a young sobo named Brother Raccoon asked if anyone wanted to go dumpster diving with him for supplies, and, not getting any takers, shrugged and disappeared, I though to leave immediately on his scavenging run. So imagine my shock when I looked up a few minutes later to see a 6’2″ raccoon come around the corner. It was Brother Raccoon in an adult-sized raccoon onesie which he has apparently been packing with him and intends to bring the entirety of the trail. I absolutely lost my composure, and was still laughing minutes after he had gone, grinning and saying if a cop tried to stop him, Brother Raccoon hoped he had a sense of humor. I should have gone with him for the absolute hilarity of seeing a human-sized raccoon going through the neighborhood trash. He had been a little bit cagey about explaining earlier that day where his name came from, and I’m glad he saved it for the surprise reveal cause that is absolutely my favorite trail moment to date.
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