Ready for Rugged: Thru-Hiking the Long Trail

“What a wonderful, once in a lifetime adventure!”

That’s what I thought when I began planning my 2018 Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I had no clue at the time what that hike would come to mean and where it would lead me.

Back then, I was a novice when it came to long-distance hiking. I had never even heard of the Long Trail so hiking it certainly wasn’t on my mind. My focus was firmly tuned to the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail and whether my 52-year-old body could make it.

As I hiked north, I met people who mentioned the Long Trail. When I heard it was only 272 miles, I thought, “What’s the point?” and wrote it off. The AT was it for me.

Then I reached Vermont, where the AT and the Long Trail run concurrently for about 100 miles. Just past the southern terminus of the Long Trail, at the Seth Warner Shelter, I met a young women who was starting the Long Trail solo, hiking end-to-end with her dog.

She told me the venerable trail was the first long-distance trail in the US, that it went all the way to the Canadian border, and that it was rugged and remote in ways the AT wasn’t. “That’s interesting,” I thought, and filed the info away.

Unfinished Business

My thru-hike became a game of hopscotch, including an unplanned jump from Vermont to New Hampshire just a couple of days after I met that Long Trail hiker. I summited Mount Katahadin in October, then flipped back to Vermont to start hiking SOBO. I was racing to fill in my gaps with winter nipping at nipping my heels.

Hiking solo in Vermont in the fall wasn’t easy for me. The trail was blanketed with beautiful leaves hiding the dangerous rocks and roots below. Blazes were few and far between. I spent hours nose-down on the Guthook app, checking to be sure I wasn’t too lost. Where was the trail? Was I on still it… or off track again?

After a two-day stretch of hiking without seeing a soul, I felt unsafe and alone. I decided to leave the AT in Killington, moving south to New York, where I hoped to find more hikers and better trail conditions.

While prudent, that choice left me with 100 unhiked miles of the AT in Vermont. Those miles also happened to be part of the Long Trail, which runs concurrent with the AT from just over the Vermont-Massachusetts border up to the Killington area.

Eventually, I limped home in November after seven months on the AT, leaving an early snow in my rearview mirror. My ego smarted from the brutal reality of not finishing the thru hike I so desperately wanted to complete. Time wasn’t on my side and I needed to leave the trail, but I wasn’t done. Far from it!

Those unhiked miles nagged at me all winter long. Soon I was back on the trail closing my gaps from largest to smallest. Pennsylvania was first on the list, to be followed by the 100 miles I jumped in Vermont.

Looking at the Long Trail

In the months between leaving the AT and returning to finish what I started, I learned more about the Long Trail. Although it’s short as long-distance trails go, it’s rugged, raw, and unspoiled. It has plenty of 4,000-foot peaks and lots of rocks to scramble over. Seen with a fresh perspective, the Long Trail became a new challenge just waiting to be hiked. (And why not, if I had to do the first 100 miles anyway?)

I set my sights on the Long Trail but was reluctant to tackle it solo. I hiked most of the Appalachian Trail alone, but I almost always had hiker friends nearby. I frequently met up with them in camp at night and occasionally hiked difficult sections with a buddy. Other than that, I was on my pretty much own until I finally joined up with a tramily in Maine.

When a member of my trail family posted on a Facebook group about his plans to hike the Long Trail end-to-end, it was the perfect opportunity to partner up with a friend I knew was compatible in terms of hiking style and personality. “Hey Double Stack,” I messaged him, “Want some company?”

He did, and we began planning for our September end-to-end hike. I’ve been researching the trail, drooling over YouTube videos (Following Redbeard does a wonderful job of showing the terrain), and tweaking my gear picks.

I’ll be leaving in two weeks to meet Double Stack in Williamstown, MA, and we’ll start our end-to-end hike in early September. Follow my posts here to learn more about the Long Trail and share my experience.

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