Week 6: The Original Tough Mudder

Remember that thruhiker phrase I referenced in my first blog post on the Trail?

“Embrace the suck.”

This was, quite literally, the first half of my week. Embracing the fact that your boots are being sucked into the cavernous pits of mud in Vermont. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were wet and rainy, creating the state of Vermud that I had heard rumors (horror stories) about from other thruhikers. At that time, I was naive: how bad could it be?

Well, I found out.

Tuesday was without a doubt the most miserable day I have spent on the Trail in the 6 weeks that I have been out here. Bear with me while I tell you of my Appalachian trials.

Appalachian Trials

It all started the day before with rain. I go to bed, knowing that in the morning I am going to have to put on wet, cold clothes because nothing is going to dry out overnight. It is also supposed to rain 1-2 inches the next day, which generally means a good, steady, soaking rain all day. That thought is spinning tangled webs of yuck in my brain as I’m falling asleep.

I drag myself out of my sleeping bag in the morning and start hiking. Today’s biggest climb is Stratton Mountain, a 4000-footer on which Benton McKaye was first inspired with the idea to form the Appalachian Trail. So I should have had appreciative, inspirational thoughts while I was up there, right? Wrong. I climbed to the top and all I wanted to do was get off that dang mountain before i became hypothermic. The wind was howling, the rain was coming down, and the temperature was hovering in the 40s. I think the thing that scared me most was that I was moving and I was freezing. I debated stopping for lunch, afraid that if I stopped hiking, I would be done for. Luckily, there was a bit of a climb before the shelter I stopped at for lunch, so I warmed up a little, got calories into my system, and then pushed 8 miles to an enclosed cabin with the promise of a wood stove to spend the night.

It was a day on which the trail couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a pond, a stream, or a trail. I eventually stopped expending the energy to avoid the puddles and plowed through them; there was already a lake in each of my boots, anyway.

I reached the cabin and there was no dry wood for a fire, so the wood stove was useless. But at least the cabin had four walls, so the wind and driving rain were kept out. I made hot coffee for the first time on this trek (usually I just pour the instant coffee packets in my oatmeal in the morning). I hung everything up to attempt to dry it, with full knowledge that it would probably not dry at all. But there was a glimmer of hope: the sun was supposed to make an appearance the next day with temperatures rising close to 70!

“The sun’ll come out, tomorrow!”

There you have it. My Appalachian trials. Now let me encourage you with Appalachian blessings.

Appalachian Blessings

I am happy to say that after Tuesday, the weather in Vermont has been beautiful.

The Trail has dried out, too! I didn’t soak my boots once today, and I think they have finally dried out.

The woods up here have been absolutely gorgeous. I feel like I am walking through the scenery from Lord of the Rings. The higher elevations with their pines and moss and white rocks fill my heart up.

Flat Elliott in a rock garden, wondering where the magical gnomes who created it are…

The generosity of others and the diversity of the hiking community is also worth mentioning. Last night was a great example. I stayed at a shelter with a couple other thruhikers, some section hikers, and some Long Trail hikers. Two of the section hikers made me a pancake with m&m’s that was delicious! The Long Trail hikers consisted of a dad and his 9-year-old son who are hiking sections of the Long Trail. They had hiked 13 miles that day! Super impressive for a nine-year-old. I enjoyed conversing with them and listening to their father-and-son exchanges. It was awesome to see a dad and his son out hiking together.

Generosity continued. When I hiked Mount Greylock last Saturday, I stopped in at the lodge and a visitor offered to buy me something at the cafe after learning I was a thruhiker. A day hiker gave me a clementine that day, too.

Other blessings include getting to the last two days before my resupply and realizing I can eat ALL the things in my food bag.

In addition, I think my Trail legs have finally kicked in! I put in close to 130 miles this week, including a 22.6 day and a 19.7 day back-to-back, and I wasn’t nearly as tired as I thought I would be.

Then there’s clean laundry, a shower, and a real bed for the night, all things that make this hiker very happy.

Onward & Upward

New Hampshire and Maine are looming rather ominously ahead of me. I know it will continue to be a mixture of Appalachian trials and blessings. For example, the next part of the trail is the hardest but also the most beautiful, from what I have been told. Less than 500 miles to Katahdin!!!


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