A Tale of a Muddy Trail, and Muddier Relationships

I have a lot of feelings about Vermont. Or rather, I had a lot of feelings in Vermont. Some were good, some were bad. Either way, I don’t think I could write honestly about my experience there without sharing them.

So, I’ll start with the bad. The worst, in fact. My tramily, whom I’d been with since Georgia, split in Vermont. It was heartbreaking. These were people that I had literally seen, leaned on, and laughed with for almost 1,700 miles. They had been the brightest parts of my day for 4.5 months. Our tramily was fun, loving, and special. And now I may never see half of them again.

The worst part is, it’s largely my fault. I’m the one who made the executive decision to leave the group. I had to, for my own sanity and for the sake of my broken heart. I believe that I made the right decision, but also feel an immense sense of guilt about it. I never wanted it to happen. But unfortunately, a romantic entanglement gone awry forced my hand. It didn’t work out, and I had to get myself out of a bad situation, disbanding the tramily in the process. Luckily, I was able to keep Head Chef and Ibex in the split, and we’re now joined by our friend Baby.

The lesson? Don’t commit trincest (tramily incest). Just don’t do it. Trust me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a perfect starry summer night and you’re surrounded by fields of fireflies. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been flirting for months. It doesn’t matter if he has some of the prettiest eyes you’ve ever seen. It doesn’t matter if your friend Head Chef has peer-pressured you into taking three shots of silver rum. It doesn’t matter how swept up in the magic of the trail you are. Because when it doesn’t work out, you don’t want to have to watch your friends’ hearts break too when they realize they have to choose sides and the group Katahdin photo you’ve all been dreaming about since March will never exist. Just don’t do it.

I also hated the mud in Vermont. So that’s something that’s actually Vermont’s fault. (Or Vermud, if you will). The first half of the state was covered in it. Oodles and oodles of oozy brown mud. My shoes will never be the same. Heck, my feet may never be the same. (Kidding).

But you know what? Aside from all that, I loved Vermont. I loved its lakes and ponds, deep gorges, pine forests, real climbs, ski resorts, friendly people, swimming opportunities, and quaint little towns. The trail was kind to me there, especially when I needed it most.

And even with ten states down, I find I’m still learning and hitting firsts on the trail. I hitchhiked solo for the first time into Manchester (I put my knife in my pocket ahead of time, just in case, but was picked up by a very nice, nonthreatening man), saw my first signs of moose (no moose itself yet, though), took my first nude creek bath, took my first trail nap, saw my first trail nudists, and visited my first cult.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Yellow Deli is an absolute trail legend. It’s a restaurant in Rutland, VT, run by the Twelve Tribes, a religious organization often referred to as a cult. They also run a donation-based hiker hostel above the restaurant, and it’s been on our list to visit since the early days of the trail. Let me tell you, it was so worth it.

The restaurant is incredible. Everything is homemade and fresh, with many of their ingredients coming from their farm. I had two meals there (a breakfast sandwich, fruit salad, Yerba mate with maple syrup, salad, potato soup, cinnamon roll, Yerba mate with coffee, and sweet potato pound cake) and would have had more if the hours had been extended. The staff is incredibly friendly, especially to hikers, and we were invited to join them for their Friday night sabbath celebration. It was like being in another country and culture. They all dressed alike, and sang and danced for us for a long time, followed by prayers. We joined them for dinner and were able to ask them questions about the organization. Then we were actually taught dances so we could join in. It was a weird experience, but in truth, it was an absolute blast. It’s not my cup of tea, but I can see that the people there do seem genuinely happy. Their philosophy is creating a world based on love. That being said, I have read about other locations facing problems with child abuse and sexism, so who knows what really goes on there. I can only report back on what I saw, which seemed largely positive and absolutely generous.

As with most of the states along the AT, I was sad to say goodbye to Vermont so soon. It was certainly a state worth remembering and I’ll treasure my time there, even if not everything turned out the way I’d hoped. I think it’s telling, even in the middle of heartbreak, that there is absolutely no place I’d rather be than the trail. This experience is just so special.

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Comments 4

  • Vince : Aug 11th

    Like the song says, “Looking for love in all the wrong places”. No sweat toots. When the time is right it’ll find you. Just don’t force it. Enjoy the Whites and Maine. Fair wind and following seas.
    Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, ’17/’18
    PS Glad you enjoyed Vermont. Enjoy reading your posts. Hit the Little Red Hen in Andover, ME. You will not be disappointed.

    • Audrey Payne : Aug 11th

      Ha – thanks, The Dude. That song has come into my mind once or twice in the past few weeks. An oldie but a goodie! Thanks for the kind words and I’ll certainly look up the Little Red Hen!

  • Josh Johnson : Aug 15th

    Thanks for sharing your experience and feelings. I can hear the heartbreak and beauty colliding and can only imagine the swirling range of emotion that comes with it. Sunny days ahead and I’m glad some friends came along with you when you made the choice to separate. Enjoy the rest of the journey. ❤️

  • Cheryl : Sep 27th

    Such a beautiful story! It almost makes me want to take on the northeast, haha! Maybe one day I’ll make it that far . You’ve made a great accomplishment. Congrats! I’m reminded of the lyrics “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
    You go girl !


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