Long Trail Reboot

I’m Back

It’s been a minute, but “I’m back”. I can feel it, both physically and mentally. It’s been a long road of healing and recovery, but I’m able to backpack again and ready to resume my hike of Vermont’s Long Trail. The trailhead for the Sherburne Pass Trail (the traditional Long Trail route) is in the corner of the parking lot of the Inn at Long Trail, adjacent to the road crossing where my hike ended abruptly last year.

My hike resumes at the trailhead behind the Inn. My father’s journey started in the same spot although he hiked the LT the year before the inn was built.

After being dropped off by my brother Tom, I linger in the parking lot for just a couple of minutes in the mist and rain. I decide to stop in the Pub and say hello to Murray McGrath, owner of the Inn. He’s there behind the bar and we chat for a moment. I thank him for his assistance on the day of my accident. He’s happy to see that I’m doing well and ready to get back on the trail. He says he’ll extend my gratitude to the local first responders that assisted that day as well. I think about having a Guinness at the bar to mark this milestone but decide that should probably wait until I finish the hike.

Ready or Not

Back at the trailhead, I’m excited and a little nervous, wondering if I’m really ready for this. Yes, the fractures have healed. But I still have discomfort that comes and goes throughout the day and wakes me almost every night. I’ve come to accept that pain as a daily reminder to be thankful that I’m alive, and able to resume this journey. I’m in shape, but not in backpacking shape. There’s no doubt this hike is gonna hurt as I try to regain my trail legs. I guess the good news is that I’ll be in the forest, continuing to heal while hiking.

I truly believe that shinrin-yoku and healing hikes played an important role in my recovery, but so did modern medicine, surgery, extensive physical therapy, and a dogged determination to return to the LT. The support of family, friends, and my local hiking community helped as well. Several hiking friends reached out with offers of help; sometimes it was a meal, or a beer run, or simply a visit to cheer me up. And Shannon even dropped by to change the dressing and repack my infected surgical wound. A little gross, but she happily volunteered!

During my recovery, I started out with healing walks and eventually transitioned to training hikes. I’ve been carrying my full pack on day hikes for the last several months. But I’m a little concerned about my lack of multi-day shakedown hikes. I had planned to join some friends for a section hike on the AT, but a bout with Covid got in the way. So, this will be my first time in a year carrying a pack for multiple days in a row. The Long Trail is notoriously challenging, and I’m a little worried about the absence of trail-running and multi-day hikes in my training. But my best window of opportunity to complete the trail is now.

My pack is ready to go and decorated with a scrap of fabric from the shirt I was wearing on my hike last year. I added it to remind me of how far I’ve come since then.

Looking back, that year of recovery goes by in a flash. It’s not the journey I expected but it’s one I’ve learned to embrace. What matters now is that I’m present, back on the LT. The next steps I take will be retracing my father’s footsteps. Using his trail diary and guidebook from 1937, I plan to compare our journeys.

In some ways I think I’m better prepared to do that since the accident. Last year I was very well prepared physically, and the first 100 miles of the LT seemed almost too easy to me. I was confident, and perhaps even a bit smug, about my abilities. I’ve been humbled since then. Being forced to slow down and be present, may make me better equipped to truly compare our journeys.

I hope to post updates more frequently for this part of the journey. The updates will be organized by Long Trail Divisions published in both the 1937 and current Trail Guides. This trailhead marks the beginning of Division VI.

Time to Walk

I pick up my pack outside the inn, walk to the trailhead, and bow slightly.  It’s a “moment of entering” described by Christopher Ives in the book, Zen on the Trail. “I lower my head to the woods. I try to show humility, respect, and gratitude… With the bow I let the woods know I am entering, as if asking permission.”

I’m not a big fan of the book, but the idea of respect for the trail resonated with me and it’s now my habit to do that. Ives also describes a brief pause to acknowledge a separation from what he’s leaving behind as he steps on the trail. Looking back isn’t something I typically do. But on this occasion, I recognize the significance of this moment and make an exception. I briefly turn to the road, acknowledge the trauma I’m leaving behind, and then turn to look forward. There are more important milestones in front of me.

It’s raining lightly as I take my first step on the trail. The weather forecast is showing a chance of rain for the next ten days. I guess I’ll finally get to experience some of the infamous “Vermud” on the LT.

As I step forward onto the trail, I think of the words my friend Kathy wrote in a get-well card a year ago:

“It’s a delay. It’s part of the story. You get to write your chapter of what comes next”.

I’m back to write that chapter.

Long Trail Class of 22/23.

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Comments 2

  • Graham Simon : Jul 17th

    A lot of long distance hiking trails have cool stories, but I continue to think there’s something really special about the Long Trail in creating amazing stories like this…

    Crazy what happened to you last year, super stoked you’re feeling better and back out there, and so awesome to have a 85/86 year later connection to a place like you and your dad have. Great write up of the value you’re getting from the trail, and hope it’s the epic journey you need.

    Best of luck on the start of round 2, hope you don’t get too wet or smoky, and looking forward to hearing how 2023 compares to 1937!

    • Tim Bennett : Jul 18th

      Thanks Graham, I appreciate the kind words. Wet is an understatement! Catching up on my writing while VT and the LT recover from the flooding. Stay tuned…


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