Hikers Narrowly Escape a Tornado
Bama➡️Baxter Day 139&140
Day 139: 16.5 miles
This morning we slept in a bit late at our campsite. All of us were exhausted from our road walk yesterday. Eventually we did get up and got packed up. Then set out to do the hike to Killington Peak.
Within the first few miles of the day, we passed the iconic “500 Miles to Katahdin” sign. I can’t believe how close we are to the finish line. Katahdin had felt like a lifetime away for so long, and now it’s as if the mountain is almost within grasp. I think about how quickly the last 500 miles flew by and it makes me realize just how soon we’ll be finished.
From there we continued along until we came to the next shelter. That was about six miles into the day, and we decided to take our first break there. All of us snacked and hung out for a bit. I did some stretching. Then we continued on to do the last four miles to Killington Peak.
I was expecting a pretty rough climb but was pleasantly surprised how well graded it was. We did about 2,500 feet of climbing over the four miles. I was able to push on without having to stop. It actually felt really good. And the last mile or so to the spur trail was the most gradual of it all.
The guys were waiting for me at the spur up to Killington and we all hiked up together from there. It was only about a quarter mile spur but had nearly 500 feet of elevation gain. The climb was pretty rocky and definitely required using your hands. But those are some of my favorite climbs, personally. And up at the top we were rewarded with some of the most beautiful views that we’ve seen on trail so far.
The three of us sat up at the top and took a really long break. There were some day hikers and families up there hanging out and eating sandwiches. We all sat and ate and basked in the glorious views. There weren’t many miles to go to get into Rutland.
When we finally headed out, the climb down from the peak was certainly harder than the climb up. I had to go a lot slower and lower myself down on the rock face. But it was well worth the views up top for sure. There were only 6.5 miles to go to get to the road into town and all of it was downhill. It was a bit rocky to start, which was slow going. Though the trail wound up leveling out after a while and was cruisy until town.
We got to the road around 4:50 p.m. and knew that there was a shuttle that would arrive at 5:20 p.m. A shuttle picks up at the trailhead and goes into Killington and Rutland every hour, which is great. But before the shuttle could even arrive, a guy pulled over and offered to take us to Rutland. We decided to head off with him instead and save ourselves the additional time that the bus would take. Because it makes more frequent stops, it would definitely take longer to get into town.
The guy who picked us up went by Creeper and was really knowledgeable about the Whites. He gave me all kinds of useful information and I enjoyed the conversation while he drove us into town. Then he dropped us off at the Yellow Deli in Rutland. The Yellow Deli is a chain of restaurants which is run by the Twelve Tribes, which some people compare to a cult. They run a hiker hostel in town and have some pretty fantastic food. There is a Yellow Deli in Massachusetts near where my mom lives, which I’ve been to a bunch of times. Everyone there is really nice, but sometimes the looks they give you creep me out a bit. You can feel the overwhelming desire that they have to get you to join their group.
When we arrived, we headed inside and ordered food. I had a card from back at trail days, which a member of the Yellow Deli had given me. He told me that if I carried it all the way there, I could trade it in for a free meal. I’ve been carrying that card for over 1,000 miles now. I wound up ordering a sandwich and a smoothie. Then we all sat outside to eat. There were a few other hikers there hanging out. And while we were outside, three hikers passed by that we knew: Ranch, Bookmark, and Mimic.
While we were sitting there at the Yellow Deli, we could feel the temperature drop and watched clouds roll in. It felt like it was gonna pour rain at any minute. We had booked a room in town for the night, but the hotel was about 1.8 miles away. So we decided to start walking over to try and beat the weather.
On the walk over, our phones all began to go off and we were getting tornado warnings. Apparently, there was an expected tornado in the exact area that we were in. The guys joked about it and laughed it off and we continued walking. But not far in the distance I began to watch the clouds forming in a pattern that I had never seen before. It looked like a funnel cloud was starting to form just in the distance past where we were. I pointed it out to the guys, and they continued to say that it wasn’t a tornado and we would be just fine.
But then the wind picked up all of a sudden. It was whipping so hard that things started to get tossed around on the street. Sand was being blasted into our eyes, making it hard to see and know where to go. In a flash, we went from laughing about the imaginary tornado to going into fight or flight mode. We knew that we needed to get to cover in case the tornado actually did pass by. So first we ran behind a nearby building to get partial shelter from the wind. Though we realized quickly that if a tornado was actually forming, we wouldn’t be safe there. The wind was gusting so fast that we were becoming increasingly concerned.
We wound up running down the street to a bar that we had passed on our walk. The bartender was standing outside ushering people in off the sidewalk. We were so happy to be able to head inside and feel a bit safer. Plus, I had so much goddamn sand in my eyes, and it was killing me. Just as we got to the bar, it also began to dump rain.
Inside the bar there were a few locals hanging out. It seemed like there was no better time to stop off and grab a drink. So we all got a shot and a beer and then sat outside at an enclosed porch because of the dog. Some regulars came by to talk to us and ask us about our trip. We were still well over a mile from our hotel, so we tried to figure out how we were going to get over there. It was absolutely pouring rain out and I had no desire to walk in the rain, high winds, and tornado warning.
The bartender gave me the names of some taxi services because there were no Ubers around. But while I was talking to him, a regular from the bar wound up offering to drive the three of us to the hotel. That was incredibly nice and quite the surprise. We were growing a bit concerned that it was going to be impossible to get a ride over.
Once we finished our drinks, the guy drove us over there. He lived in the area and had been hiking on a small local part of the AT for much of his life. When he dropped us off, we offered to give him some money, but he refused to take it.
All of us showered up at the hotel and got comfortable. The rain had finally stopped, so we decided to walk down the road to grab something to eat. Most restaurants were closed, so we wound up grabbing some things at the grocery store. Then back at the room we ordered Dominos to the hotel. It was such a nice, lazy night. I was grateful that the day turned out how it did. It was not a great night to be out on trail camping in the woods.
Day 140: 8.5 miles
This morning we all slept in at the room before finally getting up. We had been getting flash flood warnings on our phone all night, which meant we had to debate our plan for the days. With how flooded Vermont has been, we were worried that another couple of inches of rain might have had a significant impact. And once again, there was absolutely no way to be sure because we didn’t know anyone out on trail north of us.
We debated taking a zero day at the hotel and waiting out the accumulation of water. But all of us were antsy from our recent zeroes. So instead of sitting around all day, we decided that we would do a bit of road walking instead. That would be a bit more tedious, but also a safer bet in the case that the trail had flooded last night.
Around 10:30 a.m. we were all packed up and ready to head out. Then we got a bus back to the trailhead where we had gotten picked up yesterday. From there we decided to walk the road for a while into Killington. The road was a pretty busy highway, but the shoulder was nice and wide. Passing cars gave us the craziest looks and some people were taking videos of us. I’m sure it was quite the site to see.
There was a gas station about three miles in and we stopped off to take a quick break. I got a soda and a sandwich and also bought a container of premade Jell-O shots. I’d never seen anything like that in a store before and could not resist. I figured that because we were just walking on a flat surface all day, we could probably each have a couple Jell-O shots along the way. Or save them for later.
Leaving the gas station, we only had 6.5 miles to go to get to the next town over. There was a motel there that we planned to stay at. A short day sounded a whole lot better than a zero day. We were just happy to be walking at all. The shoulder continued to be wide for the rest of the afternoon. At some points the road was so perfectly flat that I was able to get some journaling done while I walked! Now that is multitasking.
At one point, I was walking up ahead and noticed a semi-truck pulled off in the breakdown lane. Or so I thought. But as I continued to walk, I realized that the semi wasn’t parked in the breakdown lane, it was driving in the breakdown lane! I quickly reacted and looked into the oncoming lane to see if I could run across the street. Thank god there were no oncoming cars because I had to act quickly. And when I did, Sweet Pea, who was behind me, realized the same thing at the same time. We both ran across to the other side of the road just in time for the semi to go flying by.
There was no reason for the guy to be driving in the breakdown lane. The actual lane was completely empty and there were no other cars on the road at that moment. When we got a look at the guy while he passed, we realized that he was dying laughing. He thought it was hilarious that he nearly mowed all of us down. That was definitely the craziest thing and the closest call that I’ve ever had on a road walk. And I’ve done a whole lot of road walking.
After that incident, we were all much more on alert for the rest of the day. It’s easy to pay attention and account for normal cars driving by. But having to expect that someone is going to drive in the breakdown lane in order to play chicken with pedestrians is a whole new thing entirely.
Because of all the flash floods in Vermont, a lot of roads were damaged, and areas had major run off. We wound up passing through a handful of construction sites where excavators were moving massive boulders and repairing the roads. Most of the construction areas were manned and the people working were super nice to us. They made it safe and easy for us to move through the sites. But some of the construction sites that weren’t active were really difficult to navigate around with oncoming traffic. It was certainly not the most ideal road walk, but we made it work. I kept telling myself that it was good preparation for the Alabama road walk and the road walking along the Florida trail.
Around 3:00 p.m., we got into the part of Killington where we had planned to spend the night. Apparently, the whole area had flooded a few days ago, so almost nothing was open. The motel that we booked had actually just reopened today, which was crazy to think about. We checked in at the Cedar Brook Hotel in Killington, which was completely empty. There was nothing open around us, so we just snacked and cooked on our camp stoves in the room.
For the rest of the night, we just laid around at the room and watched TV. It was a nice relaxing day, for sure. Even though the day was a bit untraditional, we still managed to enjoy ourselves. Vermont has been a trip, for sure. A lot of people are skipping past Vermont entirely to avoid the flooding and the general chaos. But we figured we would do as much walking as we can, even if that means walking the road for a bit.
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