No bear, that’s my food (6/20, 6/21, 6/22)

Day 115, 6/20: Bennington, VT -> Story Spring shelter (19 miles)

We packed up from the comfort of the hotel and headed to the office. We found Rick and Tom sitting on a bench outside and said hi. They got caught in the thunderstorm yesterday going down the steep rocks into Bennington. I can’t imagine doing those steep rocks in the pouring rain.

Rick (middle) and Tom (right)

A friend of the hotel owner drove us to the trailhead. He had Dunkin Doughnuts, bananas, and drinks he shared with us. We thanked him and started up the steep climb into the woods. I stopped to put on my new Deet lotion and Rash and Piñata continued up ahead. The climb was long, but not terrible. I took it slow and my knees weren’t hurting, so that was a relief. 

The terrain for the morning was muddy, rocky, and lots of rock hopping to avoid sticking my foot in the muddy water. I managed to successfully keep my feet dry all morning. Despite the mud and the horrible black flies that dive bombed my face in packs of 100, the forest was beautiful and serene. Vermont seems to boast forests plucked right out of a fairy tale with ferns, moss, and colorful mushrooms dotting the trees. The evergreens make the whole forest smell deliciously of Christmas.

Straight out of a fairy tale

Before the first shelter, snagged the hole in my shoe mesh on a root and almost fell. I caught myself, but ripped the once small hole to a good sized gash in the mesh. The shoe was still functional, but with the huge hole, leaf debris was coming in at an alarming rate. I stopped to duct tape the hole closed. It only has to survive 1.5 more days.

Shoe gash

Duct tape fixes everything

I stopped at the shelter for water, and met Forest who started in Georgia in April. His pack was tiny with no hipbelt. I asked him about his weights and he said his base weight was 7 lbs! I continued onto the fire tower and enjoyed the beautiful 360 degree view above the trees before the wind threatened to knock me down. The flies at the base of the tower were unbearable, so my plans to eat lunch there were postponed to a less buggy site. 

Fire tower view

A less buggy site didn’t present itself. It was black fly city the rest of the day. I donned my head net for a while, and ran into Mulga, wearing an identical head net, setting up tent near the second shelter. I was bummed they wouldn’t be at our shelter for the night. We talked for a bit before I headed out. My feet weren’t so lucky in the afternoon and got soaked more than once as I slid off the rocks dotting the muddy trail. I came to a beaver pond before the shelter. Lots of points are labeled beaver ponds in Guthooks, but this was the first time I actually saw beavers. There were 2 swimming around, watching me carefully. They occasionally tail slapped the water to alert of my dangerous presence, and I waited until I got a good tail slap on video. Meanwhile, I was becoming a living meal for the black flies, but it was worth it. 

Beaver making ripples

Seeing the beavers was definitely a highlight of my day. I got to the shelter after stepping twice more in muddy water, and found Rash and Piñata eating with a few other hikers. They said Sweetspot, Geiser, and Medicine Man were all there as well. I set up camp and made dinner. The temperature dropped noticeably while I was eating, and I had to change into warmer clothes for the first time in a while. 

Day 116, 6/21: Story Spring shelter -> Manchester, VT (21 miles)

I woke up when it was still dark out. I thought I felt my hammock rocking back and forth. I thought I imagined it, and tried going back to sleep. Then I felt it jerk again, with a ripping sound. I was half asleep, got out of my hammock, and ducked under my tarp. Then I realized it was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything, so I ducked back under my tarp and grabbed my headlamp, which I had clove hitched to my ridge line. After fumbling with it, I got it loose, and shone it around to see a huge, fat, black bear standing 15 feet away from me. He was looking at me, standing still on all fours. I clapped my hands and started yelling, and he ran into the woods.

My punctured Ursack

This is how far he stretched the rope, trying to pull it off the tree

By then, the other hikers were up with their headlamps. We heard another ripping sound, and Durable mentioned her food bag was hung where the sound was coming from. We walk over and see the bear standing over some food wrappers, munching away. Durable’s food bag was hanging in the tree, slashed open. The crowd of hikers included me, Rash, Piñata, Durable, Medicine Man, Scooby, Geezer, and Alps. We were all shouting, banging poles together, blowing whistles, and making a huge ruckus. Nothing phased this bear. He went along eating Durable’s food and ignoring us. A few hikers found rocks, hit the bear, and that made him run away. We quickly grabbed all the wrappers and half eaten food on the ground.

Bear picture taken by Alps

We retuned to camp and found the bear hanging out by the fire pit, mere feet from the shelter. He walked back to the woods, and made his way from food bag to food bag, looking up at them, assessing the situation. Durable’s bag was hung too close to the tree trunk, and the bear was able to slash it with an outstretched paw. The other food bags in camp were hung far enough away from the trunk where he couldn’t reach them. It looked like he knew it, and didn’t attempt to get them.

By the time he left camp, we were all too high on adrenaline to go back to sleep, so Rash, Piñata, and I packed up our hammocks. We went over to the picnic table to make breakfast with some of the other hikers. It was close to 5:00am and everyone in camp was already awake from all the ruckus, but a few people in the shelter were annoyed that we were still up talking. We tried to talk softly, but we were all still shaken up by the whole experience. 

We ate breakfast and headed out early. I left a little before 7am, which is the earliest I’ve been on trail except for one morning in Georgia. Right out of the shelter were large, wet, rocks up a hill. I lost my balance stepping on the first couple rocks, and fell hard on my right side. I haven’t fallen hard in a while, and it took me a while to get myself up. I lay on the ground for a few seconds, assessing if my limbs were still working. Once I decided nothing was seriously injured, I spent a while trying to get back up. Trying to stand up from laying on the ground is always a challenge with weak knees and a ~25 lbs pack on my back.

Casualty from the fall

After recovering from the fall, the hike was enjoyable. I was listening to Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah. The scenery was beautiful but the bugs were awful, which seems to be the usual in Vermont. After climbing Stratton mountain, which was long but not terrible, I climbed the fire tower on top. The top of the tower was enclosed in glass panels, which was nice because the wind was ferocious. The views were outstanding. 360 degrees above treeline, and it was breathtaking. I stopped at the bottom to have a few snacks, but was driven off by a seam of black flies. 

View from the fire tower

Bottom of the fire tower before I got swarmed by flies

The rest of the afternoon hike was uneventful and enjoyable. This morning, we discussed the possibility of going an extra 2-3 miles, making today a 21 mile day, and going into town to get a hotel. I was freaked out from the bear and could use a mental break from the woods. We had planned to go into town tomorrow for resupply anyways.

I walked along a dirt road for a while, and it made my feet ache. I think all the cushion was gone in my shoes. It’s a good thing I’m getting my shoes in the mail tomorrow. After the dirt road was Prospect rock, which had a funny sign facing the road. 

Prospect rock “look up” sign

I was the few miles to the shelter, and found Rash and Piñata sitting around Durable, who was making a fire with Medicine Man’s help. Around the picnic table was Alps, and a flip flopper with her daughter and an adorable Jack Russell. After resting for a while, Rash, Piñata, and I decided to push on the 3 miles to the road to hitch into the hotel. 

Hitching was easy, and we got picked up right away. The guy had a bike and mini fridge in his car, so we squeezed in around them. We got to the hotel, checked in, but skipped showering for the time being and walked next door to Bob’s Diner, since it was closing in an hour. I had eggs sardu and an ice cream sundae which were out of this world good. We went back to the hotel, showered, and crashed watching Bob’s Burgers. 

Our food at Bob’s diner

Day 117, 6/22: Manchester, VT -> Lost Pond shelter (14.9 miles)

We lounged around, sleeping in. We finally got up for breakfast, which was pretty dismal. The hotel was very clean, but they were lacking in some areas like bowls for cereal. I spent some time on the computer in the lounge filing a report with the ATC for the bear activity we encountered. The hotel manager spent some time talking to me in a thick Indian accent, and I headed back to the room. We got an easy hitch into town to go to the Mountain Goat outfitter for my package.

Piñata and I hitching in the back of the covered pickup. Rash was in front. 

At the outfitter, I got my package from Louis with my new water resistant shoes. I said goodbye to my old shoes, which was harder than I expected. They’ve carried me 1,016 miles. They were too ripped and battered to donate anywhere, so I took the laces off (in case of lace failure on my new shoes), and put them unceremoniously in the outside trash can.

New shoes (left) vs old shoes

Their final resting place

I bought a Buff headband I’d been wanting, and some better line tensioners for my hammock tarp. We walked down the road with intention of going to the grocery store, but passed McDonalds and stopped in for lunch. After quickly eating (I got a breakfast sandwich, an ice cream cone, fries, and an ice tea), we got a hitch back to the trailhead from a mom and her pre teen son. 

New headband

We got a late start hiking, and I wasn’t moving fast. After a few climbs, we came to the top of a ski lift with signs for all the ski trails. It was weird to see it covered in grass and flowers. I stopped for a snack at the top and admired the view, wondering how it would look covered in snow.

Ski lift

Slopes covered in grass

As I hiked and took breaks, I was doing the math of when I’d arrive in camp, and realized it was going to be after 9pm at the current rate I was going. I started picking up the pace, not wanting to be in the dark after our bear scare. There was a long stretch with boards next to a pond that was picturesque.

Boards that went on and on

I finally made it into camp around 8pm. I set my hammock up next to Rash and Piñata. Durable was tenting next to us, but she was already in her tent by the time I arrived. Water was down a steep hill, and it was almost dark. There was no picnic table, so I sat around the fire pit on logs with Rash, Piñata, and Train Wreck eating dinner. We all prayed for no bear activity, and turned in. 

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