Slogging into the North: Long Trail Update
As we hike closer to Maine Junction (and closer to the rugged northern portion of the trail), both Bartman and I started to get a bit nervous for what’s to come. My body has pretty much adapted to doing 14-ish miles per day, which should keep me on track to finish in my relatively aggressive 21-day time limit. Let’s see how this middle section goes.
Day 8: Clarendon Shelter to Churchill Scott Shelter (about 14.7 miles)
I slept great and felt cleaner than I had in 7 days, but the clothes I’d washed the day before were still pretty wet. I thought they might be, but they smelled way better than they did before the wash so I didn’t mind putting them on. It was also another beautiful, warm, sunny day, so I figured they’d dry soon. We had a difficult little climb first thing in the morning up Beacon Hill, and then descended down into some farmland and wildflower fields. There were even apple trees near the dirt road that must have belonged to the farm, and I resisted picking one because I was still carrying a pretty hefty food bag and didn’t need any extras.
At a shelter right before our big Killington climb, we took a snack break and ran into two SOBO Appalachian Trail hikers. One of them asked me if I knew how much my pack weighed as I hoisted it on, and I wanted to smack him with my ten-pound food bag right in the neck-beard. I was sure he was going to try to mansplain to me that I should be carrying less weight, but my response was polite. I told him we’d just resupplied on food and were carrying around 7 days’ worth and he let it go.
Still a little peeved, I had a fire lit under me for the climb up Killington. I also really enjoyed the physical effort, the tough terrain, and the music in my headphones (the first time I’d put them in on this trip). At the top, though, we were swarmed by day hikers and their dogs so we didn’t linger long. (The dogs were a welcome sight).
We had a handful more miles to put in before getting to our shelter, and they went by as they do most days: the last mile or so before a shelter seems to take forever. I always have to check Guthook to make sure I didn’t miss it, and when I do I always find we’re still .2 miles away or something like that. Those final miles do tend to drag.
At the shelter we met Jocelyn, a section hiker from Massachusetts. She hung out in the shelter with us for the night and we laughed because Bartman thought her name was Clarice for some reason, and referred to her as such about four times before I said, “Wait, I thought your name was Jocelyn?” It was, but she was too polite to correct him. We told her she could have Clarice as a trail name, but I hope for her sake she gets a better one!
Day 9: Churchill Scott Shelter to David Logan Shelter (about 15.2 miles)
Afraid of the rain in the forecast and wanting to put in some miles, I suggested we go 15 for the day, to Bartman’s dismay. But as soon as we started hiking, I felt like a dark cloud had come over me. I didn’t enjoy the walking—everything felt too steep, or too rocky—and we didn’t get any views until right before camp. To make matters worse, all the Maple trees in the area had some sort of blight that put hole-punch-like holes in the leaves and dropped them prematurely. It was depressing to trudge through piles and piles of diseased leaves, especially when I was already feeling down.
I tried to cheer myself up with some music and a Cosmic Brownie from my pack, but it didn’t quite work. The whole afternoon, we walked along a dusty ledge that threatened to crumble down the side of a steep hill. I swore under my breath a lot and slipped on a rock once, hurting my pride more than my body. I said under my breath to the trail, seemingly only a foot wide on the ledge, “If this gets any thinner I’m gonna quit.”
It didn’t. I didn’t quit. I didn’t really want to quit, I was just having a bad day. I cheered up as we got closer to the shelter, though, and picked up some crystal clear water directly from a mountain spring. We saw our first nice view of the day—the payoff from “living on the edge” as Bartman said—and the leaves are pretty much peak right now. Reds, oranges, and yellows have taken over the green tunnel, and it really looks like fall out here. And oh, yeah—we left the AT today and are officially in the “north.”
Day 10: David Logan Shelter to Sucker Brook Shelter (about 13 miles)
Our first day of rain on trail didn’t start out too bad, actually. It sprinkled on and off, and was warm enough that I decided to forego the rain jacket and just get soaked. It actually felt pretty good during our little climb first thing in the morning, and I was able to fill up my water bottles much easier now that the streams weren’t all threatening to dry up.
We ate lunch under the cover of Sunrise Shelter, but didn’t want to linger too long because the miles had been coming pretty easy and the weather wasn’t horrible. When we made it to Brandon’s Gap—pretty much a straight-up climb to some cliffs and a view point at the top—it truly started pouring. As I climbed, I couldn’t tell if the liquid pouring down my face was rain, sweat, tears, or a mixture of the three. Unfortunately it was too foggy to see the views, so we slogged back down toward the shelter where we planned on getting dry and staying the night.
I was so excited to get to the shelter on my climb down. I slipped on some roots and fell right on my ass once, and another time had to basically crawl under a fallen log that was too tall for me to step over. I was a mess; completely soaked through and covered in pine needles and mud. I just wanted to get my hiking clothes off and snuggle into my dry sleeping clothes for the night.
When we arrived at the shelter, though, it was already full of people. They had accomplished what I was hoping to—all their clothes were hung up inside the shelter to dry, and they were just chillin’ in their sleep clothes. Bartman and I begrudgingly set up our tents in the rain. I still got to shed my soaked hiking clothes in favor of my dry ones, so it wasn’t such a big deal. It just felt demoralizing in the moment, because we had been so looking forward to sleeping in a shelter after the rain all day.
To make matters worse (or better?) the sun came out as soon as we got done setting up our tents. We could have tried to press on to the next shelter, but it was 7.5 miles away and it was already 4 o’clock. We wouldn’t have arrived until after dark, and I did not feel comfortable night hiking in wet conditions. I’d already fallen more times than I wanted to! So, we tried to take advantage of the newfound sun by letting our shoes and bags dry for a bit while we ate dinner.
It’s supposed to rain all week and I’m trying not to let it get me down. I plan to head into Waitsfield at the end of this week, hoping to stay overnight at an inn or hotel. The thought of a shower, a warm bed, and a non-dehydrated dinner should keep me slogging on.
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