Don’t Feed Wild Hikers: Long Trail Day Ten

Puffer Shelter, where we spent the night, is a three-sided lean-to facing east at the top of a cliff. I set an alarm the night before hoping to see the sunrise and an unobstructed view of Mount Mansfield. Unfortunately, when my alarm goes off all I can see is clouds.

I start to make breakfast when the breeze picks up. I feel it coming across my face at the shelter opening. As I look up I feel like I’m in a movie. The clouds move as if an invisible hand is pushing them out of the valley just as the first rays of sunlight crest over the tops of the mountains.

For a few seconds, I forget to breathe. I throw the socks I was about to put on at Jon’s head, demanding he wakes up and surveys the majesty before us.

When we eventually get over watching the sunrise, we look at the map to decide on today’s goal. Basically, our only two options are a 4.5-mile day to Buchanan Shelter or a 16.2-mile day to Bamforth Ridge Shelter. This is really no choice at all, and we resign ourselves to our longest mileage day yet.

We leave camp around 9 a.m. and have a fairly easy day. Jon and I stop beside a stream to eat lunch. Before I met him, I never stopped for lunch. I never really stopped at all. Jon teaches me to slow down and take in where we are, what we’re accomplishing. Lunch is peaceful, restful, and I learn not to stress how many miles we have left: we’ll get there when we get there.

Jon takes the opportunity to rebandage his feet, which are pretty wrecked. Unlike me, Jon has yet to take a rest day and this is day nine of hiking for him. Jon’s feet are covered in blisters and I can barely look at the damage his heels have taken.

Not long after lunch we cross under an overpass and take a road walk along the Winooski River. It feels weird to walk on a road. Jon and I comment on how strongly we can smell the oil, the gasoline, the blacktop. Our feet pound the pavement and I feel each step concussing my knees and ankles. The bottoms of my feet quickly begin to ache, and I can only imagine how Jon’s feet are feeling.

The trail then turns off the road down near the riverbank, onto some agricultural land currently housing first a chicken and then a goose farm. The sun is sinking lower in the sky and it must be almost dinnertime for the fowl because they rush toward us, screeching their hunger.

We cross a picture-perfect river, then take another short road walk to get to Camel’s Hump State Park. Once we enter the park we only have three more miles to the shelter, but Jon is losing motivation and I can tell his feet are getting worse. The scenery is breathtaking, but between the fading light and Jon’s need to get to camp we don’t stop to enjoy it.

The ascent to the shelter is fairly gradual. We come to a landing with a bench occupied by a young couple who, noticing our hungry stares at their container of raspberries, offer to share. Fighting the urge to turn into Yogi Bear and snatch/run away with the fruitful spoils, I decline the offer. There’s a reason you don’t feed wild animals.

We turn our headlamps on for the last half mile to the shelter. Jon is quiet as he forces himself to continue on. We finally find the shelter, empty, and I offer to fill our waters at the nearby source while Jon sets up our sleep systems. I figure this is something he can do while sitting down rather than having to walk the 0.2 miles each way to the water source. I carry all of our containers down to the small creek in the dark. Camel’s Hump is covered in warning signs about bear activity and I jump at each and every noise I hear.

When I return to the shelter, we limp down to the picnic table to make dinner and make sure we replenish our calories. We don’t make dinner in the shelter in order to ensure we do not attract bears to where we sleep. Once done with dinner we crawl into our sleeping bags and lose all sense of the world.

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