My alarm chimed at 5:30 AM. I wanted to give myself plenty of catch-up time, to see where the day would take me.
This is going to be a long one.
Day 3: Goddard Shelter to Stratton Pond Shelter (19.5 mi)
A whole 12 minutes passed from the time I grabbed my food bag, ate a protein bar, drank some electrolyte mix, and was at the top of Glastenbury Mtn. Gradually descending the ridge line, I was so at peace among the fiddleheads unfurled in the morning light. I returned to that childlike mindset, in awe of the beauty of my ‘second home.’ Although this section lacked sweeping views, those quiet moments of solitude were just as meaningful.
On my journey so far, many people asked if I’m out here alone. While it’s becoming more common to see women going solo on long-distance trails, I usually reply with caution. Once I get to know the asker better, I explain when I first started seriously hiking I felt more comfortable going with others; hitting popular trails and only staying out for a few hours. As I learned and gained confidence, I adopted this mindset: if you always wait for someone to go with you, you’ll never get to do the things you want.
A good chunk of this day remains a blur. Beaver bogs gave way to bridges with some wicked climbs and descents in between. Staring down the final 7 miles to Stratton Pond Shelter, I began my 2000′ ascent of the tallest mountain in southern VT at 1:30 PM. Stratton was kind to me – a long haul up, yes, but gradual enough to not have to stop and catch your breath. That is, until the views from the fire tower took it away.
This mountain is a special place; a crossroads of past, present, and future. It’s where visionary James P. Taylor laid out the foundation for America’s first long-distance hiking trail, tracing the spine of the Green Mountains. It’s where just a decade later, Benton MacKaye imagined a footpath spanning the eastern seaboard encouraging a mass return to nature. The breeze flowing through the fire tower, I considered my own motivations for this hike, and for my future.
Was it the sense of accomplishment I sought after?
The validation in doing something incredibly challenging?
I tried not to let the answer to slip into ‘why not?’ territory, knowing well it wouldn’t keep me going through the challenges yet to come. A shift in perspective happened in that fire tower. My people-pleasing self chose to remove ‘people’ from that equation. All my life, I worried about others’ opinions of me – what I needed to do to meet arbitrary definitions of success, how I had to act to be liked. That’s what got me here in the first place. Burnt out, feeling as though I lost my sense of self because in many ways I did. With miles still to go, I shimmied down the steps and trekked down the generously graded north face of the mountain, hopeful I’d become a better friend to myself as I moved north.
What We Choose to See
The shelter I chose for the evening sat beyond a junction after crossing a footbridge and climbing back up another 250′. In my opinion, adding another 0.25 mi (and more to get to the water source) after a 20 mile day should constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Nonetheless, I slugged uphill once more and set up my tent.
Stratton Pond, another 0.2 mi away and the water source for the shelter, glistened in the fading rays of sun. I made my way to the shore in my camp shoes, sliding my tired feet into the ripples while dragonflies buzzed around and loons called out from the horizon. There was so much to feel; so much to take in. I realized how long I didn’t allow myself to feel anything for the sake of others. Staying strong and unbothered, always accommodating. My 24 lb pack felt weightless in comparison to the mental and emotional toll of which I was working to unburden myself. So often we’re told to ditch ideas or people or systems that don’t serve us and there, I made the conscious decision to actually do it – breathe deeply, let it go.
Twenty freaking miles on day three, with considerable elevation change. ‘That’s something to be proud of,’ I thought. Excited to sleep in for the shorter mileage and town stop the next day, I crawled into my tent while the anthem of a universally human dilemma played in my head.
Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me.
– The Band
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