Long Trail Day 2: Laura Woodward to Tillotson

My first night on the trail was as disastrous as the first afternoon. I had never slept in an open shelter before and my anxiety was completely out of control. I was concerned about waking up to 1 million bug bites on my face, being extremely dehydrated still, my bear bag missing, sleeping through my alarm, having to pee in a camp full of guys and so on and so on. Just as most worries go, none of those things manifested themselves, apart from the dehydration.

We all were up early, the guys excited to finish their adventure and me to redeem mine. I collected my bear hang and proceed to attempt to make breakfast. I swear by dehydrated milk and cereal backpacking. We hardly ever buy cereal at home and as a kid camping was one of the only times we got to get cereal. And logistically, you can add dehydrated milk to almost anything to make it better and if cereal smashes you’re usually too tired to care.

I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t even stomach that. Maybe coffee will help? I started to boil water and immediately felt ill again. All I wanted was water. For those of you when know me I need my coffee in the morning. One of my luxury items while backpacking is a coffee cup. To just hold a cup of hot coffee in the morning is so comforting. But this morning, it was nauseating.

On the hill about halfway up Jay Peak, looking out to Doll Peak, the Northern Terminus and Canada.

I attempted conversation, scooped up my stuff and headed out. I had about 1.4 miles to get to the top of Jay Peak where there were rumored bathrooms, outlets and trash cans! The hike up was beautiful. I got to see where I had come from the day before on exposed peaks and ski trails, then the rocks scrambles and slick boulders started.

Up to Jay Peak

The heat of the day had not started yet so once I got to the peak, it was almost chilly. I threw off my bag, charged my phone and attempted to eat some peanut butter and Oreos. Another snack that tastes great no matter how smashed they are. I was so excited to wash my face and hands, but I tried the door and it was locked. Thankfully, I was able to throw away my wet bag of Mac and Cheese.

Early morning sun on Jay Peak.

What Goes Up Must Come Down…

After about 30 minutes, I decide to head out. I had read about the decent from Jay Peak being a long, technical one. This is an understatement. Southbounders, just accept that this will take forever. This combined with the mindset of “all you need to do today is walk” is a transition for me to always accept and quite honestly one of the reasons I love thru hiking. All you need to do is walk. I’m not sure that you could call what I was doing was walking though. As I began my slow decent, I was shuffling from rock to rock. I had never been on an exposed peak, let alone at 3800+ feet. Do I look down? Hard no. Do I look around? Hard no. Just keep shuffling and for ^%$&s sake do not slip and fall. But my god it was beautiful.

The start of the decent from Jay Peak.

Coming from the Midwest, we are familiar with no switchbacks and minimal views. This morning taught me how those views can be worth it. Also coming from the Midwest, we are familiar with humidity. Those who know, this means that things that are wet, stay wet. Like shoes, socks, rocks and mud. The rocks were slick! But nothing compared to what I would see later this day.

Where is the nearest Starbucks?

As the day went on, it got hotter and hotter. This was something that I was prepared for. On the Superior Hiking Trail we would joke that we were useless from about 2:00 pm-4:00 pm and we aways seemed to be on exposed rock during those hours. Between the heat, the nausea and the lack of sleep and coffee, I was starting to crash hard. The miles between the parking lot at Jay Peak and Hazen’s Notch camp were covered with mud. There were spots that I would put my poles into the mud and it was sink up to the handles. My spirits were crashing as hard my energy was.

I had clean my legs at least twice already.

I told myself that I would rest at the sign for Hazen’s Notch camp. When I got there I literally fell to the ground. It was only 1:00pm. I had been hiking since 5:30 am. And only gone 9 miles. I pulled out my phone and texted my husband and friend who was an ultra runner. “What is the actual heck am I doing out here? I am literally not going to make it up two 3000+ foot peaks and 6 more miles”. “You need to eat” was the general consensus. I pulled out my salami and cheese and gagged. I cut off a piece and forced myself to eat it with some crackers and cheese. Everything looked nasty. All I want is water. I forced more down and threw M&M’s in my pocket of my pack. I would hike two miles and eat M&M’s.

Personally Attacked by Haystack

Something I learned this day, 3,000 ft peaks might be harder than 4,000 ones. Most of it is mental, you see the 3 and go “Ohhhh I got this!”, then a mile up you are screaming and swearing. Currently, I am still convinced that Haystack Mountain tried to kill me.

It is no secret I am short. Usually, this has worked in my favor on trails. This was not true on Haystack. There were spots on the ascent where I was literally rock climbing because my little hobbit legs couldn’t reach. I would throw my poles up, and start climbing. I crushed some M&M’s. One more mile and I stopped again. I threw down my bag as sweat poured off of me and I laid in the middle of the trail and cried again. There is no way I can make it to camp. I checked my water. Almost out. I checked the weather. Thunderstorms tonight. I guess I have no choice but to get to camp. 3 miles, I can run that in 25-30 minutes. I can hike that in 1 hour in Michigan. It was only 3:30, I have nothing to do but hike. I can make it.

One of the more forgiving sections of Haystack that wasn’t just sheets of rock.

The next three miles were a blur. I had a podcast in talking about the history of pilates. I don’t think I could tell you what it talked about. I just remember, rock, sweat pouring off of me and so much moose poop.

Things you think about when you are alone and exhausted. A. How the heck did a moose get up here? B. Why, no matter how fresh it is, does moose poop never have flies on it?

I got to the top of Haystack, saw the sign for the “views”, proceeded to flip it off and started to decent. I had one more big climb until I got to camp.

As I finally started to get closer to Tillotson, I could hear voices. Tillotson is a closed shelter, with a bear box. I was so excited to sleep with 4 walls and not to have to hang my food. I got closer and there were more voices, loud voices. I rounded the corner and was greeted by 12 teenagers from a local over night camp. They were so excited to see someone. I was bombarded with questions: “do you have a boyfriend?”, “do you like hiking?”, “how d you clean yourself?”, “are you scared by yourself?”, “can we help you set up your tent?”, “can we come with you to filter water?”. I was too exhausted to explain my exhaustion so I just humored them, chatted and welcomed their help.

A Rose, A Thorn and a Bud

I got settled and decided I would try and tackle food. I had one of my favorite backpacking meals “Pad Tai”. I waited for it to cook and the girls invited me over to sit with them. They explained to me that at the end of each day they share something that they liked, something they didn’t and something they are looking forward to. In the moment, I wanted to curl up in my tent and chug water. I forced myself to sit, listen, attempt to eat (gagging) and shared.

Just like the night before I did not want food or conversation. But the trail provides. It often gives you what you need and not always what you want. That night, I needed to be around company, laughs and simplicity of the conversations. I am so thankful for their welcoming attitude and their willingness to try something new. Many of them were uncomfortable in the woods, expressing discomfort, but also pleasure at the end experience. I was so grateful to share that experience with them because that was truly what I needed.

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Comments 1

  • Jared : Aug 1st

    Hey there, I know it seems like the trail is rough right now, but you’re doing incredible! It was around this section last year that I had to throw in the towel (torn miniscus in my knee), and I know it’s rough, but if you have done this well so far, you got this! Stay positive, be safe, happy hiking! 🤘


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