Vermont: A Long-Awaited Homecoming
Note to the reader: On 9/25/22, I summited Katahdin and completed my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail! These next few blogs were written after the end of my hike, as I took time off from writing to focus on the last few hundred miles of the trail. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I’m looking forward to reliving those memories by completing this series of posts. Thank you for reading along!
On 8/9/22, I walked into Vermont and hit the 1600 mile mark.
I sat near the slightly muddy marker, munching on a packed-out lunch of goat cheese and cured meat on a Hawaiian roll (or 6.) I’d always been well-traveled, but Vermont was one of the few states I hadn’t been to yet. Now, I could say that I’d walked there – the first, and likely only, state I’ll ever travel to entirely on foot.
As soon as my friend Casserole and I walked into Vermont, a cold front blew in and lingered. After a chilly night, I ordered a 10 degree underquilt for my new hammock setup, and texted my partner, Phil, to have my baselayers and warmer quilt sent back to me in Hanover, NH. The Whites were just one state line away, and while I was nervous about the technical trail and unpredictable weather ahead, at this point, I knew that I could handle pretty much anything the Trail threw my way.
Firetower Views and Trail Legs
I did a little over 17 miles during my first full day in Vermont, and encountered very few of the state’s famous mud pits. The drought that had plagued us from Pennsylvania through New York was apparently here too, but we still enjoyed more frequent water sources.
I loved climbing up and over Glastenbury Mountain through the pine forests, and lingered in the fire tower at the summit for some views and rest before continuing on to Story Spring Shelter. The next morning, I woke up early to a crisp, chilly morning, and dragged my puffy out of the bottom of my pack with glee. Puffy weather was back! Despite my Southern roots, I love nothing more than hiking in cold weather.
Invigorated by the cold and needing a resupply, I hiked 20+ miles to Manchester Center, cruising up and over Stratton Mountain and averaging well over 2mph for the day even with breaks. For the first time since Pennsylvania, I got my trail legs under me again, feeling as though I was floating down the trail with no effort.
I was unmistakably in the best shape of my life – power walking 20 miles over mountains without breaking a sweat – but was humbled by my resupply choices once I got into town.
When you’re thru-hiking, eventually, calories per ounce becomes the most important factor in your resupply choices. I’d tried my best to eat a healthy diet by keeping my macros balanced and packing out multivitamins. But at this point in my hike, there was only a bottomless pit of gnawing hunger that was never fully satisfied. This reality saw me sheepishly ordering 15 cheeseburgers from the McDonald’s in Manchester Center, and then repeating myself “Yes, I said 15,” when the worker at the register looked at me with a mix of horror and incredulity.
The best and most terrifying part of a McDonald’s resupply is that the food doesn’t go bad. The longest I pushed a burger resupply was 5 days, and they were unchanged in both quality (which says the most) and appearance. Trying not to think too hard about all the preservatives in the bag I was now carrying, I made my way over to the Price Chopper to split the McDonald’s with Casserole and grab a few foodstuffs that (hopefully) weren’t made entirely of MSG and carcinogens.
We stayed at one of my favorite hostels so far – Green Mountain House – and cooked breakfast for dinner. Casserole produced some mushrooms he’d foraged and we had them with all the scrambled eggs and bacon we could eat.
Choosing My Moment
I woke up with the sun, and used the hostel’s laptop to churn out a few blog posts, catching up this Trek blog to the beginning of Vermont and doing some writing for my personal website as well. I wrote for a solid 3 hours, sipping coffee and picking at some leftover eggs and bacon from the night before. As I scheduled my last post, I sat back in my chair and surveyed my impromptu workspace. My first journal was now full and needing to be sent home, and my new one was waiting in the bottom of my pack. It felt good to get caught up, but I felt drained since I’d let my posts get so far behind. I didn’t want to get that far behind again.
I opened my FarOut app and scrolled to the next town, zooming to see if they had a library that I could stop at in a week or so to write some more. Then, I put my phone on the table face-down and really thought about what I was doing.
I wasn’t out here to write and put things on the internet. I was here to hike. I was here to enjoy writing again.
As I sat, it also occurred to me that I had far less than 1,000 miles left. Maybe 400 miles. At my current pace, that meant only a month left of this life. Whether I liked it or not, my thru-hike was rapidly drawing to a close. “Real life” would be here all too soon, and with it, all sorts of obligations. Why was I trying to create obligations for myself that didn’t actually exist? Why was I rushing towards the inevitable?
The first couple days on trail were slower as I battled a cold I’d picked up from the hostel. But on the day I saw the “500 Miles to Katahdin” sign, my pack was near-empty and needing resupply, and I felt great. I ran down the trail, putting away 5 technical miles in less than 2 hours, chasing the sunset as it beamed through pine forests and mist and erupted into orange, yellow, and red.
Those 10 days hiking through Vermont were when I felt most like a thru-hiker. Those 150 miles of trail hit the sweet spot after the misery of the hot and humid Pennsylvania-New Jersey-New York days, and before (as I was about to learn) the absolute crucible of the White Mountains. I felt stronger than I ever had in my life. I was a hiking machine.
But it was so much more than that. This was the part of my hike where I felt entirely comfortable – more at ease than ever before. I solo camped and hitched into towns alone without worry, thumb out, my smile and the cold wind stinging my cheeks as cars whizzed by. (I will never claim to be an accomplished hitchhiker, just that I tried, okay?)
When I hiked through Vermont, it felt like a long-awaited homecoming.
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