Day 126: Zero at the Yellow Deli
I had a quiet time today: I got some reading done, I walked around the town of Rutland, I got up early and helped cook breakfast for the hikers staying at the hostel, along with Brother Raccoon, Lemon Lime, and a few others. In the evening Shatterproof and Councilor came in, and it was nice to see them again. I thought I might leave tomorrow, or I might not. This is a nice place to do a work for stay: the folks who run the Yellow Deli and hiker hostel are very friendly and kind. There are a lot of sobos here right now, and one or two nobos I’ve met once or twice before: The Don is here, and Luigi, Rambler and Slug have made another appearance. Soon we will all go our separate ways again: it looks like Councilor and I are definitely hiking differently now, so after we leave here I might not see much of him again. And I’m not too sure about the others.
It’s hard not to be down about it. It’s hard to keep making friends, only to feel like I don’t get to keep them. It’s wearing me down a lot. I still love the trail. I’m definitely going to finish. But I was looking back on some of my early entries, when I was so starry-eyed every day, and I see now that after the injuries and physical exhaustion and the strain to keep going that pushes me onward in spite of obstacles that might have convinced another hiker to go home, I’m different than I was. When I started, the hike came first, and friendships were a nice bonus. But somewhere along the way I realized that it’s the friendships that have left the deepest, most valuable, and also most painful marks on me. The people I’ve met have become my strongest reason to keep going. I’m not sure how to explain what I mean, so if this next bit is a mess I’m sorry.
I value these connections out here, and I’ve been leaning on them, sometimes too much, probably. And because I put so much importance on them, because I enjoy coming in to camp to see the people I’m so fond of, when those daily face to face connections snap (even though the friendship is still there!) I get a little lonely. And the longer I know a person and have a chance to grow to like them, the deeper that loneliness is. So when I lost my trail family, Silverback and Lassie and Shade and Recon, and then Sticks and The Girl, and now, possibly Councilor, as well as the faster hellos and goodbyes of a multitude of other hikers, those little sadnesses have been silently piling up over the months. And it has made me tired.
I’m in two minds a lot of the time. Part of me wants to say to my friends, “Don’t leave me behind again. I don’t want to be apart, I want to have as much time with you as possible because you are what is making this the most incredible journey of my life.” But, that’s not exactly fair, is it? Everyone has their own reason for being out here, and when everybody I met started, for none of them was that reason “to hang out with Xena.” So I’m doing my best to step on that lonely part of myself, and it’s hard because I want to be really selfish about it. I’m not sure how to face up to all this attachment honestly, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made a good solid mess of it at least once.
But yes. I’m lonely. Sometimes I have a hard time staying in the moment because I’m worried about saying goodbye. Is this too much? It might be too many feelings for a blog post. Sorry about that. I know I’m usually pretty positive but I guess I still get down sometimes, and it’s probably important to take note of those days too.
Day 127: Zero in Rutland
Honestly I’m still feeling blue. I think I’ll hike out tomorrow, and try to walk it out. Sitting around too much isn’t a good way to be spending my time, and my ankle feels pretty strong. I might try to do a few big days, and just get myself nice and tired. Killington tomorrow.
Day 128: Rutland, VT to Cooper Lodge Shelter
Okay, today was more fun. It was a close call, though…almost got sucked into a third day at the Yellow Deli, until I realized what I was doing, threw down my crossword, grabbed my gear, and just bolted out of there because I knew if I stayed another second I would be there all week. That town vortex is real. I didn’t even stop to say goodbye to the other hikers there, unless they were directly in my escape route…just left the door swinging in my wake and hitched back to the trailhead.
I saw Fedex (sobo at the Yellow Deli) there talking to a northbounder I hadn’t met yet, Skywalker. Had fun chatting with them for a bit, and then realized I was setting myself up for a nighttime summit of Killington, so I said my goodbyes and got moving. The trail from Route 103 goes across a field full of golden wildflowers and then up a little incline, which turned out to be a super fun rock scramble. I love them. I loooove them! I’m going to have so much fun in southern Maine, if what these sobos tell me is true.
The hike up to Governor Clement shelter is not too bad, and I met Nose Flute (nobo, and, uh, carries a nose flute, but really though) and a young woman hiking the Long Trail, as well as a couple of men who I’d seen earlier at Clarendon Shelter. I grabbed a super quick snack and kept going, time was wasting.
Killington didn’t feel like a tough climb. I just steamrolled up it, which is always great for my ego. Close to the summit the trail got quite root-y and rocky, and that slowed me down much more than I had counted on, and I knew at that point I’d be summiting pretty close to full dark. Light was just starting to fade as I was navigating through a huge root and boulder snarl, and I was almost through it when I knocked my bad ankle against a root I hadn’t seen in the growing dusk. It almost put me face down on the trail, it hurt so badly…must have just hit the one painful spot left. Ugh, it was awful. I hobbled for almost a minute before I was able to walk it out and get moving again.
I made it to the shelter just before headlamp o’clock, and set my tent up on a tent pad next to four men who were section hiking together, and who were very funny, and kept me entertained while I set up by teasing each other and telling funny stories. I don’t remember all their names, to my regret, but I remember Chef Paul and Cans. It was getting pretty chilly and windy up on the top of Killington, and I traded my sweaty tank top for a sweatshirt and my fleece immediately on setting my pack down.
Dinner was a businesslike, efficient meeting between my stomach and two packs of ramen and then I bundled into my sleeping bag, did a few sit-ups to get it warmed up quickly, and snuggled in. Today was a good day, ankle aside.
Day 129: Cooper Lodge Shelter to Stony Brook Shelter
I’m doing this entry and the next few a few days late, and I’ve sent home the portion of my AWOL guide that covered this section, perhaps a little too hastily, so I’m having a little trouble remembering the names and order things happened in. Apologies for any vagueness or if you’ve done this section of the trail and notice I’ve put mountains in the wrong spot.
So! The descent of Killington was lovely. The sun broke out in the morning as I was hiking down through a birch forest, a type of forest that always makes me feel happy. It’s just so bright and cheerful in a birch wood, how can your spirits not respond?
But as the day went on, my morale sank a bit. I’m a tiny bit worried about time, and my ankle was feeling tender again after the descent. And I’m still feeling a little down post-Rutland funk. I don’t really want to do the Whites alone. I want to have someone around to talk to. And then I hit an uphill that shouldn’t have been hard, especially considering the way I crushed the Killington ascent yesterday, but it was exhausting. I had to stop several times, and then I freaking ran out of water, like a rookie, so I was feeling wretched by the time I got to the top.
As I came over the crest of the hill, though, I came across The Don taking a rest break, and I swear both of our faces just lit up. It was a moment of mutual surprise at seeing each other when we hadn’t expected to, and absolute, sheer excitement at having a friend around. We hadn’t talked much at Lost Pond Shelter when we first ran across each other, but we had talked several times in Rutland and had a blast pillaging the farmer’s market there, so the trail friendship was already off to a solid start. We have different hiking styles: he likes to hike together and I have avoided that in the past, but we stuck together for the rest of the day and made it down to Stony Brook Shelter together that evening.
We were eating dinner and chatting when as a bonus Shatterproof and Councilor showed up, which I honestly had not expected. I dropped a tiny Firefly reference while I was talking to Shatterproof, and The Don was the only one who picked up on it. I knew we were going to be friends, ha ha.
It’s getting pretty cold at night. I set up my tent rather than shiver in the shelter, and I’ll probably be tenting for the rest of the hike. It’s a whole easier to warm up a tent than a shelter.
Day 130: Stony Brook Shelter to stealth site north of some road I forget the name of. My bad. I’ll fix it when I get home.
I had a seriously terrifying nightmare last night, the worst I’ve had in years. I woke up and couldn’t get out of my tent fast enough, although I’m not sure what physically moving was supposed to accomplish. I sat out in the pitch black, letting my pulse slow down and trying to breathe normally, and happened to look up. The sky was really something, with thousands of stars scattered against the streak of the Milky Way, and I felt calmer immediately. What is it about stars that does that, I wonder? Whenever I was upset about something in college I would go for a walk at night and end up in a field somewhere, staring up at the constellations, and it always helped me get a little distance from whatever had been bothering me. Anyway.
The Don and I hiked together again today, leaving camp before Shatterproof and Councilor, and after last night’s Firefly moment we went through all our favorite geeky shows…it’s going to be such a nerdy friendship. I am excited. We stopped at a pretty incredible overlook late morning and met some day hikers who gave us their leftover fruit, making this morning The Best Ever.
We kept expecting the other two to catch up, but we never saw them. The rest of the day went fairly smoothly, and we decided to stop at a nice stream in a pine forest with some prime tent spots under a massive fallen pine trunk (and if you think we didn’t climb all over it, you’re crazy). The was a sobo named Bad Decisions there as well, who has come from New Zealand to hike, and he joined us at our campfire for dinner. He’s a pretty funny guy, but he looked like was about seventeen, so when he casually mentioned that he had finished his college degree in the classics, both The Don and I were totally thrown off. Looks can be so deceiving! Councilor and Shatterproof never showed up, and neither of us could figure out when they passed us.
Day 131: Stealth site to Norwich, VT
Long day today. I wasn’t really hacing it in the morning: the day ahead had lots of PUDs and I was feeling distinctly unmotivated. But there were a few fun things that happened. I came down off a pretty steep uphill into a field that wound down past an old farm that has been purchased by the Forest Service and boarded up. I took off my pack while I waited for The Don to catch up, and went exploring, and kind of fell in love with the place. I’m not sure why, there’s not much to it, but there you go. I spent pretty much the rest of the day thinking about what it would be like to fix it up and get it running again. Again, odd, because farming has never been on my to do list, and I don’t think the Forest Service is allowed to sell off land anyway.
The hills today really weren’t much fun. They were still beautiful though, and The Don has been helping me keep a good sense of humor about it. He tends to be a bit more laid back about breaks than I am, and he will stop to play some music or take photos or just relax, while I tend to stop only when it is snack time. Trying things his way has been a nice change.
Eventually in the afternoon we reached West Hartford, and were walking across the bridge when we were flagged down by a woman on her porch from across the road. Her name is Linda, and she has been a trail angel for over twenty years. She gave us food and sodas and ice tea and I was pleased to see the four men I’d met on top of Killington, giving me a hard time about getting to town before I did (they drove, the cheeky little so and so’s). Linda offered to let us stay in her barn for the night, which was just so kind, but we had our hearts set on Norwich, so Linda gave us the list of trail angels in Norwich and Hanover who let hikers stay with them, and we pushed on.
We kept going faster, and then a bit faster, and then even faster, trying to get to town, or somewhere with reception, before 8:00, the cutoff for calling trail angels in town. We made it to Norwich about 7:30, and ended up staying at Toni and Warren’s, right on the street we were on when we called. They are…totally awesome people. Very cool, exceptionally kind, with great stories. It was a good night, although my ankle was doing a continuous throb from all the fast hiking. I can’t believe it’s still giving me so much trouble.
Day 132: Norwich, VT to Moose Mountain
I hiked out of Norwich in the morning, and walked over the VT/NH border to Hanover, home of Dartmouth College. That is one crowded little college town. I briefly ran into Shatterproof and Councilor there, but I wasn’t interested in hanging around so I made it through in about an hour. Not today, town vortex! The Don was still trying to get a new pair of boots at the EMS the next town over, so we agreed to meet up further down the trail at Moose Mountain shelter that night.
The trail was lovely, when I got back into the woods. Pine needles made the ground spongy and silent, and after one steep uphill in the beginning, the difficulty wasn’t anything to write home about. I’m definitely beginning to understand why it’s called the granite state, though. Chunks of the stuff are strewn all over the place.
I ran into Sherpa going up Moose Mountain while I was getting water, and chatted for a minute or two. I completely ran out of light hiking up the mountain, though, and was glad when I found Sherpa, Feel Good, and Stitch, who I had heard of but never met, hanging out at the top. Good guys, all of them, and it was fun camping with them. The Don ended up getting too late a start to make it there, but I’m sure he’ll catch up soon.
Day 133: Moose Mountain to Oh Come On
So…today was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I had a rough start. Coming down the north side of Moose Mountain just sucked. It wasn’t hard. It was just that my ankle was still sore, and occasionally when I put my foot down too hard or flexed the ankle too sharply I still got these shooting pains up the side of my leg. It’s not fun to hike like this. I can do it but I end up not getting a lot out of the trail because I’m distracted by pain. And I’m taking too much ibuprofen.
When I got to the next road, Stitch and Sherpa were there, enjoying some trail magic sodas. I ended up talking to them both about the fact that I was concerned by my ankle, and eventually talked myself into hitchhiking back into Hanover to get it looked at. It’s just that it has stopped improving. It has sort of plateaued at “slightly shitty.” I started walking down the road, and I’ll be honest, I turned around and headed back to the trail twice, tempted to just keep ignoring it and hike on. But eventually a truck stopped and I committed, and went to the hospital.
A couple of hours later, I had my answer. My ankle is broken. It has been broken since my fall over a month ago in New York. I hiked all the way across Vermont on it, which is either really badass or really stupid. Or both? Could be both.
First I cried, when one doctor told me I was done this year. Then another doctor told me it was a stable fracture, and I might be able to keep going if I gave it a couple more weeks of complete rest. They gave me an air cast. And every single person I talked to, from the technicians to the doctors, told me that the Whites were right out of the question this year, and probably southern Maine too, if I didn’t want to risk transforming my stable fracture into something that needed surgery and plates.
This is…I don’t know. On the one hand, I’m so glad that I can keep going (you can see what part of that diagnosis I internalized first). I can get to Katahdin, see it to the end. It’s really important to me to be able to do that. But here’s another section missed, and it’s the section I’ve looked forward to more than any other. I’ve been looking forward to the Whites since I got back on the trail in Virginia. Sure, I have been nervous about them, but it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t even get to try. It’s actually breaking my heart a bit. I’ve cried a lot today.
I hate the idea that this will never be an official thru hike now. That’s what I really wanted from the beginning, to say that I walked from Georgia to Maine, and now there are all these asterisks attached to that statement. And even though my perspective on what is important to me on this hike has changed, I think for the better, as I walked, I still never really let go of that initial dream to do the whole thing in one go, and this new loss is really eating me up now.
It is hard to stay positive. I’ve been making a lot of jokes about it, but I need to be honest about the fact that right now, I’m hurting. Letting go of something important is hard, even when I don’t have a choice. And I’ve been hurting about a lot of different things lately, as I explained earlier in this post. It’s a hard week for me, with more disappointments than any other time on the trail.
Well. Things will get better. My ankle will get better. It will still be broken, probably, when I get back on the trail, but hopefully the rest will strengthen it enough for me to avoid further injury (and yeah, I’m going to be soooo careful). Toni and Warren have opened their house to me while I’m benched, further proving their awesomeness. And on the third I’ll hitchhike up to Rangeley, Maine, and finish. I’m not giving up on this yet.
And maybe in a few years, I’ll come back and try again. Because I’m really, really slow to learn my lesson, apparently.
Days 133-149: Norwich
It has been pretty quiet here. I have not done much but sit around watching Netflix and willing my bone to heal faster. Warren and Toni have been so kind to me. Warren kept stopping hikers he saw on the street and dragging them in to keep me company, ha ha. It was good, though, I got to see Tuck again! Haven’t seen her since Virginia. And I ran into Flannelheart and Dawdler in town, and met several sobos. I’ve been helping with dog sitting and with some handiwork around the house. But as nice as it is to be clean all the time, I want to be out again, and I’m still having trouble reconciling myself to not hiking the Whites. Well. My two weeks of mandated rest are up and I’m hitchhiking out in the morning. Ankle is still broken, I can feel the soreness, but I’ve had enough of sitting around. It’s definitely miles better than it was, so I’m calling it good enough. Away we go!
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