Serenity in Vermont: My AT Prep was paying off

Vermont. The Green Mountain State. A rolling carpet of lush conifers rising with the latitudes from Massachusetts to Canada. Home of Bernie and his mittens. I’d choose a section of the AT / Long Trail here as one of my AT prep hike trips in June 2021. It would be rejuvenating.

LoVermont

I’ll admit it – I’m a Vermont-o-phile. I’ve noted in earlier posts that I grew up in Massachusetts and did nearly all of my hiking in the wonderful White Mountains of New Hampshire. I didn’t even discover Vermont until my forties – but when I did, I was awed by its ability to soothe, to ease. Its green vistas and valleys sway, a stark difference from the aggressive rocky ridges of neighboring New Hampshire. When I’m loading my skis into my car in wintertime, I’m usually Vermont-bound.

And can we talk beer? (I love to talk about beer!) Vermont was a cradle state for the craft beer revolution with The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and Lawson’s Liquids.  The area boasts so many great breweries today – Burlington Beer Company, Fiddlehead, Frost, Four Quarters, and Upper Pass among them. I’ll never turn down a visit to Vermont for this reason alone!

A haven from my hurt

In my last post I detailed a very rough trip to the Kinsmans that badly shook my confidence. In contrast, my ten-plus mile out-and-back overnight to Peru Peak Shelter would prove to be beautiful, inspiring, and healing.  I’d carry ample water with electrolytes, and with gear adjustments I’d avoid all of the prior physical pain.  Despite rolling terrain with some significant elevation swings, I’d average 35 minute miles the entire trip.  That was AT-ready speed!  

I’d emerge the following afternoon bursting with confidence about my AT prospects. Much of this was due to physically handling the trail so much better, but a large part of my new mindset was due to my discussions with thru-hikers who’d overcome their own challenges.

Stories of Long Trail flailing

I’d encounter a pair of female hikers on top of Styles Peak, nearly seven miles into a hiking day that I was handling with ease. Earlier, Bromley Mountain’s 360 degree views had filled my spirits, even with a roof of clouds.  As I now filled my stomach with PB&J sandwiches, I’d hear their story told with a laugh and smile.

Bromley Mountain’s quiet chairlift at the summit

The two friends were tackling the Long Trail over the next 3-4 weeks but had gotten off to a rough start after three days. They’d pushed too hard too fast and ended up exhausted and hurt, taking a zero day at the Green Mountain House hostel in Manchester. The women raved about the incredible support and injury advice they received from the hostel owners and fellow hikers there. This became obvious later at the shelter, as familiar hikers met them again and shared encouragement.

That night I chatted with a robust-looking hiker in his sixties who was finishing a southbound Long Trail hike. His 11 year old grandson, his sole companion, confidently assisted with dinner prep. He noted that they were “tearing it up” in recent days – but the start up North had tough days of rain and near dehydration.  They’d taken a full day and a half off at that time, successfully adjusting their gear and their approach.

These “bounceback stories” proved to be incredibly comforting given the challenge of my prior hike. The hikers oozed positivity, and were shouldering on – wiser and more confident.

Changes for the better

My Peru Peak trip marked the fourth outing of my weekend AT Prep hike schedule. I’d already made some significant gear change decisions:

  • I needed to buy different boots. After suffering through pain in two places the prior trip, I’d returned to my old Oboz hiking boots and felt great.  However, my well-worn pair didn’t have enough miles left in them to start the AT.
  • A new, larger Dyneema tarp was already on order from Hammock Gear.
  • Finding bear boxes common (and badly needing pack space!) I had ditched my bear canister. In its place was a stuff sack and large scent proof food bags.
  • I’d discovered that adding Propel to my water fixed all of my muscle cramping!
  • I’d purchased a portable battery to extend my cell phone life to support multiple days without a charge.
  • And on this trip I’d finally get better sleep as I’d manage to master side sleeping in my hammock. But now my full sleeping bag proved to be twisted and awkward for this. After some research, I’d place an order for a top quilt burrow to replace it.

But still some silly noob moments!

Ah, but there’s so much to learn that mistakes are inevitable!  I had blunders too:

  • Thru-hiker articles noted that powdered milk was a delicious mealtime add-in, so I’d packed some to try it with my oatmeal.  However, I didn’t realize that this should be done after mixing the oats with boiling water.  I quickly discovered that boiling water plus powdered milk equals burnt milk film, which is not delicious at all.
  • After that debacle I eagerly awaited lunch that day, a new cold-soak chickpea recipe.  After soaking for several hours on the trail, my chickpeas looked ready to eat with some olive oil and spices.  But my first bites instantly brought back memories of chomping Atomic Fire Balls as a kid.  No, the chickpeas weren’t hot like the Fire Balls, but they had that little outer softness over a hard pebble middle.  Later at home I’d discover I’d used raw chickpeas – which aren’t edible in a few hours of soak!

Such important lessons

I’ve continued to write these pre-hike blog posts to stress just how much I learned in nearly six months of AT prep hikes. Exposure to the places, people, and processes on the trail can’t be gained from a web browser.  You need experience and time.  In fact, key pieces of my new gear would take four to six weeks to be custom made and shipped.

So as I departed Vermont (with a joyous stop to load my trunk with great beer, of course) – was my learning complete?

Nope. Not by a long shot. For the New England skies would soon bring rain – and lots of it. That’s a story for next time.

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