Vermud is Sucking Out My Soul

Pine forests with roots like dirty knuckles, eating grocery store sushi on a curb, a Budweiser balancing on a trail marker, light filtering through tree leaves like sun through water, feet weaving through troves of rocks and roots, a stream beside me keeps pace.

A Stream of Consciousness

These are a few words I feel capture memories from Massachusetts and Connecticut. After passing into Massachusetts, I was floored by the beauty of sunlit moss gathered in clumps by a stream. The sun was just coming up and bathed the morning in a soft golden light. The scent of earth and pine was heavy in my nose. Roots wove through the trail like earthen shoelaces, holding everything together. Honeybun and Lovechild disappeared up ahead, the back of Lovechild’s hyperlight pack flashing behind a tree. I lingered behind, feeling like I just was dropped into a fairy’s backyard.

It was august first, and everything was green, green, green. Green ferns waving from the stream side, green leaves catching sun like stained glass, green moss soft like a turtle’s pillow. I could have stayed still forever and watched a thousand lives move in front of me. Dragonflies zipped overhead, hikers passed, water continues to flow. I had to move too, but sometimes it’s a wonderful thing to be able to stand still and watch the world pass.

And the next night, I found myself sleeping in a work shed at a tree nursery. Honeybun had some friends from his work that allowed me, him and Lovechild to hunker down for the night in there. I’d never been drunk inside a work shed — but there I was, sitting on a bucket, Lovechild on a lawnmower and Honeybun on another bucket. I was dusty, my knees ached from numerous face plants and I was covered in mosquito bites, but as I sat there and scratched away — I realized I was really happy with where I was in life, and felt as though I was exactly where I needed to be. It was a common feeling I found on this thru hike — I was using my body and mind to the best of my ability, so my spirit was happy.

VERMUD: The Hype is Real

And then I walked into Vermont and my spirit was not happy. I should have known things were going to go sideways (literally) after I posed in front of the “Welcome to Vermont” sign in a giant mud puddle. It was funny at first. I joked with Lovechild, “Wow! They were right about the mud, huh?”

And then it stopped being funny when twenty minutes later we were slogging down the trail (which had become a small stream) and hauling our wet mud encrusted legs through ankle deep quicksand-like pools of mud for miles. Several frogs had made their homes in the mud pits in the middle of trail. I turned around to Lovechild and threw my hands up. “A frog should not be able to live in the middle of this trail!” But that’s Vermont for you. I alternated between pretending I was a little kid leaping through the mud and letting it splash all over my legs to primal screaming and sprinting through it in a thoughtless rage. It was so difficult that it felt almost as bad as the rocks in Pennsylvania. At least the rocks didn’t try to suck your shoes off!

Yes, that is actually the trail!

We started off each day trying to avoid stepping in the mud. We managed to evade it by hopping between different rocks and roots for a little while. Eventually, there always a time when we gave up and just plopped our feet straight into the mud. The mental energy and balance required to avoid mud are more draining than just pitching yourself forward through it. It became a part of my evening routine to stand in a stream and wash my shoes and socks while wearing them. My shoes had developed two giant holes in the sides, and so the mud crept under my toes and solidified in a very uncomfortable lump. I spent most evenings beating the hell out of my insoles to get the mud off — and in turn, the trail was beating the hell out of my body.

I was exhausted at the end of every day. Pulling yourself through mud for miles on end will do that to you. My feet were perpetually pruny and looked like I had taken them from a morgue and sewed them onto my legs. I gave myself a dry bath with my bandana to try and save some of my gear. I wore the same socks through most of Vermont — and I have never peeled something that crusty and dirt riddled off my body before.

Vermont seemed to have a stronger gravitational pull for me as well. I fell every day I walked through it. Plunging towards the mud after twisted ankles, doing splits in the dirt, slipping backwards on board walks, diving into a thicket of ferns… I did it all. Often times, I was in the middle of describing a really cool part of a song to Lovechild (such as the amazing bridge in the song Duvet from Boa that makes you feel like a silly little fairy) and then I’d abruptly slam into the ground. Not very fairy like.

Berries and Cream

After one of the days of slipping and sliding — we came across an oasis in the mud pit. The Northern Cookie Lady’s House. The house was surrounded by fields of blueberries and had a stained wood front porch complete with rocking chairs. A small table was set up with sterling silver earrings for sale and bandanas with psychedelic patterns. A wooden box in the middle with an engraving of an elk standing in front of a lake had a sign on it that read “Take two or three cookies!” I had died and gone to heaven. I picked out a pair of earrings in the shape of small leaves and munched on a cookie.

Berry picking time!

The Northern Cookie Lady’s son pulled up the driveway and offered to cook us crepes if we picked blueberries for an hour. I haven’t said yes to something faster in my life. Lovechild and I slung some empty Folgers coffee containers over our shoulders and started picking. Soon it became a competition, and I continuously followed where he went and picked all the berries he was going to. I threatened to pour all his berries into my can to make him look like an absolute slacker, and he began to put mushy berries into my can to make me look like a piss poor picker. Although I popped every other berry into my mouth, we both had half a can full by the end of an hour. Enough for crepes!

It was extremely pleasant to be doing something other than slogging through mud, and especially a typical summer activity. It’s funny how much you begin to miss regular life toward the end of a thru hike. For the past couple weeks, I’ve just been daydreaming about sitting on a couch and having a movie marathon. I still try to appreciate hiking every day, but when you do an activity every second of every day — it gets a little repetitive. It starts to get me down when I can’t appreciate it as much — it makes me feel like I’m just taking nature for granted when it holds so much life and beauty. However, on a thru hike, I believe you’re bound to get bored eventually, and when you do — something like a silly little berry picking break to spice up the monotony is exactly what the kind needs. Also, boredom isn’t always a bad thing. It breeds the most creativity because the mind wants to avoid it so much — so you’ll find some way to preoccupy yourself!

The crepes were delicious. Three half moon crescents of goodness displayed on a dark wood cutting board and sprinkled with fresh herbs — I felt like I was carrying something straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. They were full of cheese, ham, tomatoes, onions and garlic — and most of it was grown right at the Cookie Lady’s house.

Additionally, we were allowed to stay in the bus parked right next to the driveway! It was a small teal school bus, and the inside had two twin sized beds and a ceiling covered with black and white paintings of birds ranging from sandpipers to kingfishers. A star made of cat food tins hung from the rear view mirror, and several pictures of a young girl posing in front of mountains — most likely the owner of the bus — decorated the space above the windshield. The floor was adorned with rainbow colored rugs. Just as we settled in with our crepes, it began to downpour. I was so grateful to be in the bus, huddled next to Lovechild, munching on some crepes and watching the raindrops race each other on the windows.

And I Would Walk 1,000 Miles!

After Lovechild and I walked past a sign that said 500 miles from Katahdin — we realized we had hiked 1,000 miles together!

All the way from our by-chance meeting at McAfee Knob to Northern Vermont — we’ve seen each other through awesome and terrible things. From sitting outside grocery stores eating whole rotisserie chickens to rubbing Vaseline on each other’s back chafe to sprinting down mountains together to watching sunrises wrapped in my quilt to avoiding getting indoctrinated into cults to slapping mosquitos off each other to splitting family sized bags of Cheetos — I am always grateful for such an amazing hiking partner. On a hitch back to trail right before Bromley Mountain, I was explaining to the woman driving us how far we’d hiked together. She looked at me incredulously. “And you haven’t driven eachother crazy?!” I looked back and Lovechild, who grinned. “Not yet!” I laughed. “That’s really special to be able to hike with someone that long.” She said with a smile. I realized she was right.

Even in mile long sections of mud, we joke about starting frog mud wrestling rings and quiz each other about our favorite breakfast foods. On my worst falls, he’s there to help me up. On my worst days, he’s there with a joke and a hug.

After the 500 mile sign, we walked along a moss lined trail with hemlocks that towered above us on either side. A river flowed strongly below through smooth white rocks. We stopped for a moment and looked out over it, his arm around my shoulders. The sun was beginning to set, turning the water golden. Again, I felt there was nowhere else I’d rather be than there — on this huge adventure with a partner who appeared randomly into my life, but felt like he was always there at the same time. I couldn’t do anything except smile.

Killington Mountain (It’s Killington Me!)

A few days later, I was summiting Killington Mountain and hauling myself up the .2 blue blaze (or directly vertical rock scramble) to the viewpoint. Halfway up, I turned around and almost started to cry. Mountains stretched out as far as I could see, blue and hazy in the morning sun. Pines and light grey rocks speckled the top of each one. It struck me that I had walked here — 1700 miles, all the way from Georgia.

Something that I wasn’t sure I could even do then — and now here I was, on climbing bigger mountains than I ever had, seeing beauty I’d never experienced before in a place I’d never been. I was in love with it. Even with all the mud, all the bugs, all the perpetual discomfort — I’d do it all again to feel the exhilaration of doing something you didn’t know was possible.

I thanked my legs with a small dance party to “The Eye in the Sky” at the top of the mountain. 500 more miles to Katahdin. 500 more miles of this incredible, crazy journey. 500 more miles until I see all I can really do, and all I can truly be.

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Comments 3

  • thetentman : Aug 14th

    Cheer up! Great post and pics. You are doing great.

    And at least the mud will be good for your skin.


  • Leslie Dunkak : Aug 31st

    Love following your journey. I climbed Katahdin and Mt. Washington as a child with my family. Still remember my jelly legs on the down hills.
    Cheering you on!!! Both of you!!!


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