Green Mountain Mud
Pure dismay twists my face as I confront another sprawling puddle with no obvious rocks breaking the murky surface. A leap away, a fist-sized form with white flecks dares me to step on it. My foot lands – no resistance. The cold silty water floods into my sock as my foot sinks and sinks and sinks. The descent of my leg stops when it is knee-deep in the mud. I yank my saturated foot like a toilet plunger forcing a unpleasant gurgling sound to belch out from the muck. I make sure my Altra is still on my foot. Turning around to my partner, I give her a glance and she shrugs as if to say yep my feet are wet too. A gust shakes the trees overhead and drops pelt our rain gear. We press on.
My partner, who has accepted the trail name of Sputnik, is joining me for a three day section of Vermont. When she met me in Rutland it was pleasantly warm, sunny and dry, so when we alighted the city bus at the trail head we were in good spirits.
The first day was delightful. We hiked the gradual slope of Killington and then settled at Clarendon shelter for the night. The shelter is uniquely situated in a baseball-diamond-sized clearing. There is a fast-flowing brook encircling it. Sputnik and I befriended the shelter crew, including AT NOBOs and Long Trailers. And a first for me – someone had hauled in dry, chopped firewood. We ripped splinters from the logs for kindling and started a cozy fire. Rarely is there any light after sundown so this was a treat. I hope Sputnik enjoyed her first day on trail because the following day, it started raining.
Pressing on through the mud, we trudge through silty pit after silty pit. The mud is too deep to ignore and the calculated rock hopping is tedious. Progress is slow and then the rain starts. We turn off to a small lean-to to take shelter and see if the rain will slow. Shedding our jackets and packs, we gaze out at the drops forming into pools in the surrounding pine needle clearings. The wind feels good against my sweat-drenched shirt. I feel fortunate to be able to share these moments with my partner – rain and mud included.
The rain crescendos into a thunderous downpour. Puddles meld together into a continuous pool, flooding the low-lying tent sites. We eat our snacks. I log our stay in the trail journal. We wait and watch the downpour.
The rain returns to a drizzle and we steel ourselves to return to the puddles and muck. We press on.
After a tiring ascent in the green tunnel, the trees give way to overgrown brush and tall grasses. We follow a narrow footpath and spot a concrete monolith through the fog. A human sized “AT” is painted on it, symbolizing the peak and the end of our exhausting day. Walking through a trimmed grassy summit we hear the voices of a boy scout troop, then we see figures and tents emerge. An elongated flying saucer hovers ahead, soon revealing itself to be a chairlift terminus. This is Bromley Ski Mountain. We catch sight of the warming hut, a fully enclosed structure open to hikers off season. We’ve been yearning for this dry haven since we left the lean-to in the rain.
The hut has clean rubber floors, flat wood benches, and operable windows – luxury amenities on the trail. Sputnik and I change into our camp clothes and revel in our dryness. Taking a long sit, we trade stories with fellow south-bounders and reflect on the challenges of the day. Then we hang up our dripping articles. Tents, ponchos, jackets, socks, shirts, pack covers, rain pants create a hanging technicolor mosaic against the walls. After a warm dinner of mac and cheese with tuna and almonds we nestle into our sleeping bags. The memory of wet feet fades quickly as I drift into sleep.
The next day Sputnik returns home to Brooklyn. She tells me the hike was challenging but also very memorable. I sense she got a taste of the magic that the AT can conjure.
Mile 734, waiting for a train at Southeast Station.
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