Three Faces of the Trail… Plus ROAD TRIP!

I find that, for me, there are three different faces of the Appalachian Trail.

The first is the trail itself, the time spent surrounded by nature.

Because I spend most of my time watching my foot placement when hiking, I make it a point to occasionally just stop walking, breathe deeply, and look slowly all around me.  I’m always amazed by the profusion of greenery around me, the deep, woodsy smells,  the lack of sounds of civilization (usually, unless within earshot of a highway or town), and the oxygen-rich air I’m breathing all day long. I never get tired of all of this.

Midsummer lushness in the Vermont forest.

Then there’s the aspect of being part of the hiker community. It’s always interesting to meet folks out on day hikes, but I feel a special kinship with those who are spending at least several nights out on the trail.  We automatically understand some of what each other might be experiencing, be it several days of rain in a row or tackling a tough portion of the trail.

The last major influence is the outside community. Or perhaps I should call them the inside community, since they are the ones who live near the AT and deal with the ragtag collection of backpackers, year in, year out.  I marvel that they are not all completely jaded and burnt out by the demands and idiosyncrasies of all the hikers.

This post will focus on my most recent experiences from these three different viewpoints, although I have been deeply aware of them during my entire AT adventure.

Regarding nature, I have truly enjoyed my time being in Vermont. The trail has gradually lost many of its rocks and become a more forgiving surface and a pleasure to hike on.

Yes, there have been some big mountains. But they haven’t been scary and they’ve usually had lovely views at the summit.

Well, climbing up these slabs had its moments…

…but when I turned around and saw the view spread out before me, it was my reward for hard work.


And there can always be surprises thrown your way, such as this ladder bolted to the edge of a large rock outcropping. Only one way down.  Wasn’t expecting this one!

The day I climbed Killington peak (Vermont’s second highest peak at 4,229 feet) was heavily overcast.

I had hoped to take the steep, .2 mile blue trail to the actual summit for its extensive view.   However, since it would have been a whiteout, I chose instead to relax on a wooden tent platform near a shelter and cook a serving of butternut soup at 10 a.m.  This was a total change for me, cooking during the day, but I was hungry.

While eating, I enjoyed talking with a day hiker, Suhneu (originally from Taiwan), who was out on a solo hiking trip throughout the Northeast

She’s wearing bug netting, due to all the mosquitoes. I’m fortunate; insect spray is usually enough for me.

The clouds disappeared, we climbed the rocky trail to the summit, and enjoyed the view together.

After that, we continued our conversation as we hiked down that tall mountain together.

I just realized this experience encompassed both nature and a fellow hiker.  That’s the way it often is.

A lake along the trail one day demanded that I stop and put my feet in it.  I obeyed and was glad of it.

The river by West Hartford, VT,  is a fun playground for local kids.

I also had the occasion to walk on the only stretch of the AT that is handicap accessible. It is composed of a boardwalk and a smoothly groomed pebble trail leading to a deck overlooking a lovely waterfall.


I’m glad this stretch of the trail exists, and wish the handicapped had more access to nature like this.

A quirky highlight one day was coming across two different “rock gardens,” in which hikers had carefully balanced rocks in unique locations and configurations.  I just added one rock to an existing creation, but really enjoyed viewing people’s handiwork.

Rounding out my nature section, it just seemed to me that even the streams were prettier in Vermont.

I truly enjoyed solo camping by such a stream one evening when a good spot appeared along the way.

As for the community of other hikers, I’ve already mentioned the pleasure of meeting Suhneu.  Let me add to the list Nancy, aka Sgt. Sunrise.  I first met her atop one of the several mountains we climbed in VT.

Hiking up a ski slope, resplendent in wildflowers.

It was her purple hair that first caught my eye, but it was her fun sense of humor that kept me interested and entertained. We ended up hiking together off and on for a couple of days and spending two nights together at shelters.  Lots of fun!

A father/adult daughter pair continued to pop up every now and then. I first met Tom and Molly a month ago at Goddard Shelter, where I was able to capture these shots during our extremely close hungry bear encounter.

Since we tend to cover the same basic distances most days,  I’ve never known when they might appear:  at the Inn at the Long Trail, where I spent my last zero,

or walking down the sidewalk in Hanover, NH, where there was a reminder of just how far we had come.

Not far from this town, we three enjoyed breakfast at a quintessential New England diner.

Moving on to the community of residents near the trail, I had the unexpected and highly improbable experience of a free lunch at the Dartmouth $$ University dining hall. As I walked on the longest AT road stretch (three miles?), which brought me into Hanover, NH,

I saw a sign tacked to a telephone pole,  telling hikers to text one of these numbers to reach a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club.  He/she would meet us and swipe his/her dining card, giving us an all-you-can-eat lunch. I never thought I’d eat at an Ivy League university.  I felt disgustingly filthy, but the students appeared to be used to hiker trash.

The halls of Dartmouth look a tad bit finer than those of my alma mater, Southeast Missouri State University.

There were also several instances of trail magic, both along that long road walk and on a later trail.  Folks really do go out of their way to treat and encourage long-distance backpackers.

When the trail took me through a beautiful traditional campground early one morning, I was offered a piece of bacon by campers.  I must have looked like a bear with my nose up as I sought out the source of the tantalizing scent.


Although rough around the edges, beds in the barn’s attic, space for tenting in the yard, and free sodas and doughnuts on the house’s side porch have been offered to hikers for decades by trail Angel Linda in West Hartford, VT, on a donation system.

Yeah, Better Homes and Gardens wouldn’t do a photo shoot here, but the hospitality was warm.

Two former thru-hikers, who happened to elope while on the trail a few years ago now own a darling little farm just a five-minute walk from the trail in VT.  The word is out and notices posted about their “Back Porch.”

Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., hikers are welcome to relax on their enticing porch.  Snacks are available for purchase, but that’s not the couple’s goal.  It’s just to provide a nice resting spot for their trail family.

The young expectant mother, a former teacher,  and her toddler visited with me and two other hikers while the father mowed the lawn and tended the large garden.

It was a sweet respite.  I enjoyed hard-boiled eggs and watermelon, and a sense of deja vu.  When we were in our 20s, we also had a little farm, an organic garden, a toddler, and another one on the way. And I was also a former teacher.

By pushing myself to cover 18 hilly miles one day, I was able to get to the Lookout.  This cabin, with an amazing view from its rooftop deck, is privately owned by a farmer.  However, because it is only a short distance from the AT, he leaves it unlocked so that backpackers can spend the night there.

My little corner by the fireplace. Just call me Cinderella. Three guys arrived later and slept in the indoor loft. My Princes Charming?

Sunset from the rooftop deck


And now a whole different way to personalize this AT adventure: ROAD TRIP AGAIN!  One month ago, I rented a car and drove four to five hours west to watch son Jon in a sports car endurance race at Watkins Glen, NY.

I have now rented a car at Hanover, NH, and am having several fun adventures in a three-day time frame.

First, I drove just 1+ hours to Keene, NH, where I saw my dear friend, Sue, who was a very important part of my life when we lived in Kobe, Japan.

Just outside of Keene, NH, I came to a sign indicating a covered bridge down the road. I ended up following a 12-mile drive to see three more. This was the best one. Explore the blue trails!

Then I returned to Dalton, Ma, where, a month ago,  I had skipped about seven miles of the trail in order to get to the rental car office in time to claim my car for the Watkins Glen jaunt.  I couldn’t honestly say I have hiked the entire AT if I didn’t get those miles done.  CHECK!  Done on day two of this excursion.  Honesty is truly the best policy.

I was taken to my trailhead at 7 a.m., before the heat of the day, by Tom, who has been helping hikers for four decades by shuttling them to and from trailheads and offering tent space in his large yard.

And the main reason for this three-day escape-from-and-avoidance-of-the-upcoming-big-scary-mountains-of-NH?

Another one of son Jon’s races.  Being just 3+ hours away from Lime Rock Park in CT was too tempting to resist.  So here I am, staying a second time at Vanessa’s hiker hostel in Salisbury, CT, near the well-known track, which I looked down on from the trail a month ago.


Gavin’s car, the Roadshagger, during a practice lap. The AT runs along the mountain ridge right above the car.

My view down from that ridge on Lime Rock Park one month ago.

Hikers at the hostel said they could hear the cars roaring around the track all day, during their practice rounds.

So how did Jon and racing partner Gavin do in their race on the next sweltering summer day?

Well, let’s just say that they won’t count this as one of their most successful races.  After having been on the podium the last three races, all our expectations were rather high.  The car had some issues, which kept them in the back of the pack.  But they did finish the race and look forward to applying some of the lessons they learned about car setup to the next race.  I still really enjoyed being there and watching them roar around the track.


The local chapter of the JMFC (astute readers will remember from a previous post that this is the Jon Morley Fan Club).

And here I now sit in my rental car, back in Hanover, NH, finishing my blog while I still have access to Wi-Fi.  Off I go in a few minutes to the first shelter, just 1.5 miles up the trail.

Here I come, New Hampshire.  My little three-day excursion was a wonderful break, and now I’m recharged. So let’s do this thing!





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Comments 14

  • Leo : Jul 21st

    Thanks for sharing your Walk in Beauty. And beautiful it was.

    • Ruth Morley : Jul 21st

      If a person likes the color green, have I got a trail for them! Thanks for reading my post. I love sharing this experience with others.

  • zorian : Jul 21st

    Card games help in the improved cognitive functioning of the brain and increased concentration. playing solitaire card games games can actually help you stimulate your brain cells.

    • Ruth Morley : Jul 21st

      I really don’t know how to respond to this.

  • Julia Kinlaw : Jul 21st

    Wonderful stories and people on your way that are changing you in incredible ways. Keep the stories coming! Wyoming, Ohio will look totally different; hope we can keep you here for a while. Julia

    • Ruth Morley : Jul 21st

      You’re right, Julia, this adventure has already changed me. But living overseas 18 years did too, as well as all of our other travels and experiences. And I always end up coming home to Wyoming, Ohio. Remember the little song about old and new friendships? One is silver and the one gold.

  • Mary Stewart : Jul 22nd

    I love your blog, Ruth. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. You are amazing!!

    • Ruth Morley : Jul 23rd

      Mary, I’m so glad you continue to read and enjoy my blog. Come to the AT. You’ll meet a lot of extremely amazing folks who put me to shame. But thank you for thinking that. 🙂

  • John Fisher : Jul 22nd

    Another great post! Keep ’em coming.

    • Ruth Morley : Aug 11th

      Thanks for hanging in there with me, John.

  • Dale : Jul 24th

    Wonderful that you were able to visit with Sue Borden and see Jon race again! Love your creative, informative posts and your amazing photos! These are views for us readers that we will never see in person. Thank you for this!


    • Ruth Morley : Aug 11th

      Yes, Dale, it was a great mini-trip, with such varied highlights, particularly seeing Sue and watching Jon race again. As for the photos, it’s such a pleasure to take them. It makes me really look intensely at the scene or object. And others enjoying them is an added bonus. So glad to share it all with you.

  • Barbara Scott : Aug 7th

    Your motivation has amazed me my whole life!
    I appreciate the pictures of your feet in water. That cool water seems to call to hot feet!
    Love you!

    • Ruth Morley : Aug 11th

      It truly does! You always come to mind with every stream, since you love dipping your feet in the water in Colorado when given the chance. I’d never go forward on this trail if I did it often, but occasionally is so nice.


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