What Starts Well Doesn’t End Well: Long Trail Day Two
I wake up in Jay Camp to the lightening sky outside, surrounded by the men I met the night before. My sleep was light mostly due to the noises made by my lodge-mates throughout the night. I am unused to sharing a sleeping space with other humans and the sounds of shifting, farting bodies, and snores prevent me from entering a deep sleep. This act of waking up with the sun is something that becomes normal to backpackers or anyone else living outside for an extended period of time.
The longer you live without artificial light, the more you become in tune with the circadian rhythm of the planet.
We aren’t completely without artificial light; I have yet to meet a backpacker that does not have a headlamp. Headlamps are conducive to night hiking and making meals if the sun is not yet up or has already set. Having a headlamp is even more important for a fall hike like this one when the days are shorter and one finds themselves making dinner in the dark more and more often.
I make breakfast at the table in the lodge while the others go through various stages of waking, eating, and packing. I do not rush. Since I have yet to establish a morning routine I can go through without thinking, I take my time. I make sure Dobby and I eat and are well-organized before heading out. At 9 a.m., I am the last to leave the lodge.
Dobby and I set off down the spur trail back toward the Long Trail. Dobby has his head down, taking in what I’m sure are thousands of scents I will never experience. Sometimes I wonder what this experience of walking through the woods would look/feel/smell/taste like from his perspective. I find myself jealous over how he walks through life, the way he is able to perceive his surroundings.
Alas, my puppy’s skills of perception are not on point this morning. Barely five minutes from camp a bird struts slowly across the trail right in front of us, but Dobby is distracted by a particularly tantalizing scent and as a result does not see it. I pull up short, and the lack of my forward movement brings Dobby’s head up to look at me, wondering why we’ve stopped. “Was that a quail?” I ask him, and he cocks his head to the side in that adorable way dogs do when they are unsure what they are being asked.
Lesson one from LT day two: There are quail in Vermont.
Lesson two from LT day two: Quail should be more afraid of people/carnivores if they want to live.
All the Summits
Though the first climb after leaving camp leaves me breathless, I remind myself that it does not matter how slow I walk, only that I keep walking. The next few hours make me feel like a superhero. The climbs are not difficult, especially when compared to Jay Peak yesterday. Today is more of a walk along the ridgeline, walking from summit to summit without much loss in elevation in between. Thanks to the GMC there are signs at each summit proclaiming what mountain we have just successfully traversed. Domey’s Dome (yes, that’s a real name), Buchanan Mountain, and Bruce Peak pass by almost effortlessly. The day is beautiful; sometimes the sun is even shining.
Haystack Mountain, our second-to-last summit of the day, is also the longest climb. When we reach the top the trail narrows, our passage brushing the evergreens that stand sentinel on both sides of the path. The branches emit an intoxicating scent. “It smells like Christmas!” I exclaim. The golden light through the pines is breathtaking in its beauty, but also reminds me that the day is fading.
From the summit of Haystack Mountain, we still have three miles to Tillotson Camp, the lodge where we will be spending the night. We are now racing the daylight, a common problem for a fall/winter hike. Between us and camp is Tillotson Peak, which according to the elevation profile should not be too difficult. As I reach the bottom of Haystack Mountain I cross a creek about a foot deep, the first consistently flowing water source I’ve seen since I began the trail.
All smiles until you trust the wrong rock.I cross the creek by utilizing the strategically placed stepping-stones without much difficulty. As I take a confident step onto a large, flat rock alongside the creek, my feet completely sweep out from under me. I fall to my left, toward the flowing water, and instinctively reach out my left hand to brace my fall.
My only thought is not don’t hit your head or save your body, but do not get the pack wet.
My face comes so close to the surface of the rock and the water that one of my braids submerges before I catch myself with my outreached hand. Pain shoots up my left arm, and the fingers on my left hand go numb. I right myself and sit cross-legged on the offending rock, cradling my left arm in my lap and beginning to cry. “Ow, ow, ow,” I murmur over and over, trying to get my tears under control. Dobby turned around and trotted back to me as soon as I fell, now he seems to wonder why I am on the ground. He licks my face.
I calm myself down and begin to assess the damage. My pack is fine, so that’s a relief. I’ve never broken a bone before. Is this what broken bones feel like? I know I hit my arm pretty hard. My left hand has a tiny cut on the pointer finger, right in the crease of the knuckle, but it doesn’t look bad aside from bleeding rather profusely. My fingers aren’t numb like I originally thought. They are even starting to feel more normal the longer I sit.
“Stop being a baby,” I whisper to myself, and take a few deep, slow breaths.
I begin to stand, only to realize my left leg is covered in blood. “What in the world?” is definitely what I said in response.
If you scream curses in the woods and no one is around to hear you, can anyone actually prove you said it?
I search my leg for any sign of pain or laceration but I can find none. Confused, I turn my arm over and realize I have a jagged four-inch-long cut across my forearm. This is presumably from where my arm came in contact with the edge of the rock.
Falling next to a cold stream proves convenient. Once I wash off the blood and decide my arm is probably not broken, I look up into the sky and assess the fading light. I’m going to have to night-hike, I think.
I put my headlamp on in preparation for sunset. The terrain begins to ascend again, this time over Tillotson Peak, which is not nearly as tall as Haystack Mountain. Darkness does not fall until we are making our way down the other side of the peak.
If you didn’t consider me a slow hiker before (I was) you definitely would now. My headlamp is not very bright and the descent from Tillotson Peak is a scramble down rock slides. Dobby does not seem to have trouble finding his way in the dark. Conversely, the lack of light means I am moving at a snail’s pace. I decide there and then I do not want to hike at night if I can help it.
When I think I am almost to camp, and the twilight is fading to full darkness, I cross a beaver bog on large stepping-stones. I misstep, my left foot sliding off the edge of the rock. My left knee comes squarely into contact with the top of the rock with the full weight of my body and pack behind it. I scream in frustration and pain.
I finally reach Tillotson Camp 30 minutes after sunset. Embers still burn in the fire pit. I look at them longingly, wishing I had been here earlier to enjoy the fire instead of crying in a creek. I’m greeted by barking as I open the lodge door. I share the lodge with a couple on their southbound honeymoon, their two dogs in tow. Later another couple, hiking northbound, shows up as well. The lodge is plenty warm with all those bodies inside. The warmth and my tired, aching body lead to my first deep sleep on the trail.
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