Friday
Oct192012

Fun Facts And Corny Humor

 

Here are some fun facts from the trip:

 

Longest day on the trail? 19.1 miles

Shortest Day? 6 miles (?)

Average number of miles per day? 11.4

Number of days of rain?  11 or 12

Number of days with wet shoes and socks? 20

Number of blisters?  1

Number of times I used the 'F' word or any one of it's many variations?  There aren't enough zeros and commas to calculate that.

Number of nights spent in my tent? 4

Number of nights spent in a shelter? 15

Number of cloudy summits? All but Jay Peak, Bromley, and...I'm not sure what else.

Number of bears spotted? 1

Number of toenails lost? 1.5

Number of times of confirmed sleepwalking? 2

Number of hours of sleep? 4-5

Number of full days off (called a zero day)? 1

Number of nights off the trail? 5?

Number of times I had to unpack/repack mt backpack after thinking I was all set to go in the morning? Let's just say 25.

Number of  times I attempted to sing the whole Springsteen "Born To Run" album (minus the crappy song Tenth Avenue Freeze Out)? 4

Number of times I said "I think I can see the top"?  There's no symbol for infinity on the computer.

Number of dislocated joints? 1 thumb.

Number of shoes destroyed? 1 pair.

Number of times I fell? 3 big ones and one last fall by tripping into the sign that marks the end of the trail.  I'm not kidding.

Number of photos taken? 1,295

Number of days I wanted to quit? ZERO!

Number of showers? 5

Number of times I shaved 2 (Sorry Laura!)

Number of times I hung a bear bag? ~5

Number of times mice got into my food? 0

Number of times mice crawled over my sleeping bag?  Only 1 that woke me up.

Number of really cute girls I saw on the trail? 3.  Ouch.

Number of imaginary shelters I saw at the end of the day? 1 confirmed.

Number of emails, texts, calls, and comments I received while I was away? 150-200

Number of mountains I renamed?  7: 

1. Mt. I Hate Tilt-A-Whirl, 

2. Mt. Where The Frigg' Is The Summit, 

3. Mt. I Have No Scenic View, 

4. Mt. I'm Gonna Make You Poo Yourself, 

5. Mt. Killingtonjaro, 

6. Mt. Ha Ha, I Made You Cry,  

7. Mt. I've Been Hiking For 3 Weeks And You Don't Scare Me.

 

As much as it looks like someone caught me napping, this is actually another of my lovely self portraits. Stark's Nest at the top of Mad River Glen (?) in the howling rain.

Things you don't want to hear when you're backpacking:


1. I think I can see the top.

2. This will be a short day.

3. Are these bear tracks?

4. What's that green stuff floating in your water?

5. Does this look like the trail to you?

6. You're room for the night will be $89 plus tax.

7. Is that automatic gunfire I hear?

8. I think I left my raincover at the last shelter.

9. There's only a 2% chance of rain today.

10. I hope that's a gun range ahead.

11. When's the last time you saw a white blaze (trail marker)?


 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Oct162012

Last Few Posts From The Trail

Monday 10/8

It's a little bit before 8 pm and the temperature is 36 degrees and dropping.  I can see my breath like a rolling fog in the glare of my headlamp.  When I got to the summit of Mount Belvedere it was bitter cold and there was a layer of snow coating the  skeletal tree limbs and boughs of the evergreens.  It was an awe inspiring thing to see and so odd to think that at the beginning of this trip people were still swimming in the lakes and streams on the trail.  I'm becoming much more aware that I'm losing 2 minutes of daylight each day and also feeling like my body has hit the wall.  Up until today I've felt my body get stronger and stronger each day  but it's feeling like it's starting to break down.  We've been pushing for bigger miles in the last few days because the distances between shelters up north seem either too close or too far apart.  We typically opted for the bigger mile days and we've been sneaking into camp just before sunset.  It's a little bit depressing to change into dry clothes, cook/eat, and plan the next day in the dark.  I'm having to force myself to not think about the Amtrak train I'll be taking from Burlington to Brattleboro on Thursday at 9 am.  Living in the moment is one of the most difficult tasks I've ever faced.  To not sift through my past or imagine a future takes a lifetime of discipline and I'm just beginning.  The Long Trail is a cruel but very effective master when it comes to teaching this lesson.  Whenever my mind drifted too far from where it was supposed to be I was met with water and mud pouring into my shoes, a smashed toe, or getting body slammed to the ground.  Simple and effective.

I have all kinds of crazy shit going on in my head right now; conflicting emotions about wanting and not wanting to be off the trail, guilt over missing ridiculous luxuries like TV and pizza, and I've begun to wonder what it will feel like when I touch that monument at the border and then walk the few miles east to Journey's End.  I'm trying to keep clear of expectations.  It's a lesson that I learned very quickly on this journey.  The three enemies on this trip were the weight of our packs, the wet conditions, and, most importantly, expectations.  Every expectation is a setup for failure.  It ranges from simple things like assuming you'd be at the shelter at a certain time to expecting beautiful views to imagining what life might be like once I got home.  

I'm starting to turn into a popsicle so it's time to crawl into my sleeping bag (wearing thick socks, wool boxers, fleece pants, 1 short sleeve and 2 long sleeve shirts, my down jacket, my hat and gloves) and attempt to sleep.  Tilt-A-Whirl is OUT!!!

"Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems sped up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change." Edwin Way Teale

 

Overnight snow atop Mt. Belvedere

 

Another shot of Mt. Belvedere. This was an unexpected surprise. It hadn't snowed in the valley.

I beat the crap out of these poor shoes. It's ridiculous to become attached to inanimate objects but I really do love these things.

It's a lousy picture but the temperature is about 34 degrees inside the shelter. Ouch.

 

Tuesday 10/9

It was a 12 mile day to get to the Hazen's Notch Shelter, a hard 12 miles because the weight of the sun seems to be pulling it into the mountains much more quickly and the fallen leaves have obscured the trail.  I've definitely hit a wall, physically and mentally, and I felt like my body had begun to devour itself.  I'm guessing it's a combination of Canadian border fever, exhaustion, sadness, and relief.  When Remington and I met up at the road that leads up to Jay Peak, just before that huge climb, we were laying in the grass and we got absolutely giddy thinking about the food we would eat when we got back: bacon cheeseburgers stuffed with blue cheese, pizza, sweet potato fries...  Fantasizing about food was a bit premature because we still had a day of big miles, one more night in a shelter, and then on to the border.  We had way more living to do.  Our final major ascent on the trail was to go up and over the Jay Peak ski area.  It was a 1.7 mile root and rock scramble that offered us our first beautiful views in what seemed like weeks, views that were equal parts brilliant sun and the ominous clouds that seemed to follow and then catch us for the last 260+ miles.  Remington and I took a ton of photos and he accidentally snapped one of the only pictures of me I've ever liked.  He kept trying to take a picture of me smiling, but every time he snapped it I sniffled and F'd it up.  He scolded me and snapped the shutter just as I started laughing my ass off.  The picture captures so much of what this trip was like.

 

  

At the summit of the mountain a construction crew was working on the area the gondola entered into.  Remington and I again were fantasizing about food and drinks that had bubbles and flavoring when a construction worker, who must have overheard us talking, walked up without saying a word and handed us a can of coke.  Another simple act of kindness that captures the spirit of not only the walk itslef, but the people of Vermont who offered us drinks, fruit, rides when we hitchhiked, didn't mind that we were smelly and disgusting when we walked into their stores, and who did our laundry without showing a hint of disgust.  Vermont is a (beautiful) world away from anyplace I've ever been.  The walk down Jay Peak was another of those root and rock filled disasters that made knees ache and nerves shatter.  It was also the place where I dislocated my thumb.  Dislocated is such a funny word.  It almost makes it sound as if you left something somewhere.  If that's the case, I left my thumb outside of it's normal resting place.  One quick pull and it was tucked safely inside it's natural resting place, and I continued my controlled fall down the mountain.  Our final shelter, Shooting Star, was a 3 sided shelter and not a lodge.  It was another of the so many magical and transcendent nights I'd had since I left my car at North Adams.  Wildcat, a seasoned thru hiker had a fire going when Remington and I arrived, offered us some Chai tea and we settled in for dinner and sleep.  When I left North Adams I had 2 full guidebooks and a map.  As the days rolled on I would tear out the pages of the guidebooks that I'd used up and put them in my trash bag.  On that last night, as the fire was burning down, I burned the last of my books in hte fire.  It was a symbolic end to the life I'd known for the last 30 days.  I slept with my head nearly hanging off the edge of the shelter so I could stare into space, stare into and through the stars that decorated the night, and felt so fucking ALIVE.  When I got up to pee in the middle of the night there were tiny flurries falling from the sky.  This night would also be my second confirmed night of sleepwalking.  When I woke up in the morning my shoes were in a  completely different place than I left them every night before bed.  Awesome.

Here are some quotes that capture the spirit of my last night better than I ever could:

"There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery."  Joseph Conrad

 

"How lovely are the portals of the night,

When stars come out to watch the daylight die."  Thomas Cole

 

"It seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky... a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe."  Victor Hugo

The view from Jay Peak. It was our last big climb. This is when it finally felt like something was coming to an end.

Walking down one of the Jay Peak trails before ducking back into the woods.

One last full day of mud and water. There were so many miles of trail like this that it didn't even matter after a while.


 

Saturday
Oct132012

Transmissions From The Real World

10/6

It's about 6:30 on Saturday morning and it's 32 degrees inside the shelter.  I have a short 6 mile day so I don't need to run out of here.  Everyone is going their separate ways today so the morning has a melancholy feel to it.  Mountain Goat, having hiked the northern part of the trail over Labor Day, is finished and heading back to Burlington.  Sarah is pushing on so that she can finish by Tuesday.  It will be pretty strange not seeing Goat every day but it will be good for me to be alone for the final stretch.  I've got 4 more days left on the trail; 234.4 miles walked and 38.3 to go.  I need to write about my climbs over Camel's Hump and Mount Mansfield before the details slip away, but each of them will take more time than I have right now.

 

 10/7

Camel's Hump (10/1)

I'm writing this based on my faulty memory because I was so cooked by the end of the day that I was barely functioning.  Here we go...  We left the Montclair Shelter in the rain and the climbing started quickly, about 1,000 feet in 2 miles, the last 200 in less than a mile.  As we got toward the top it had been raining so hard and so often that the trails had become fast flowing streams.  The temperature was in the 50's and as we got started the wind started blowing in the 40-60mph range.  That's when the shivering started.  Each of the big summits on the Long Trail have bad weather routes because they're so exposed that there's nothing to stop the wind from howling up and over them.  I took off from Mountain Goat and Sarah, who wisely decided to take the bad weather route, and headed for the top.  It was only 0.2 miles from the top so I cinched my pack to my back as tightly as it would go and started to climb.  As I left tree line and started climbing the exposed rock the wind was crawling over the top of Camel's Hump.  I was afraid I'd be blown off of one of the ledges I had to cross on my way to the summit.  I can be stubborn and reckless but I turned around and headed back down without a seconds thought.  As soon as the adrenaline wore off I noticed that no matter how fast I walked (downstream!) the shivering wouldn't stop.  Having gotten hypothermia once while living in Colorado I remember the symptoms very clearly.  I kept getting more and more anxious because I knew the next shelter we were heading to was a 3 sided one and not a lodge with 4 walls and a roof.  I wouldn't be able to get away from the wind and rain and completely dry off and warm up.  The only town that was within hitchhiking distance didn't have any accommodations so when I caught up with Mountain Goat she recommended that we have her daughter pick us up at the next road, which was 3-4 miles away, and take us to her house to thaw out, dry off, do laundry, and eat pizza.  After the call was made we switched into the dry clothes we'd stashed in our dry bags and hauled ass to the road.  It was such a relief to have someplace warm and dry to go to.  It wasn't the last time that Mountain Goat would save me...

 

"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves."  Cheryl Strayed

 

This photograph looks the way Camel's Hump felt.

 

This is where I should have turned around.

 

This is where I did.

 

Mount Mansfield (10/3)

Stepping out of the car after a night at Goat's I was kind of stoked to get back on the trail and also a little bit apprehensive.  The rain wasn't supposed to start until later in the afternoon, but in what had become our standard hiking conditions, the wind and rain picked up just in time for our ascent of Mount Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont.  The terrain and weather/trail conditions perfectly mirrored my day on Camel's Hump.  The trails had become streams and there were sections that were so steep that you would throw your trekking poles up ahead of you, climb to them, and repeat until you got to a more civilized part of the trail.  The higher you got the less frequent those were.  My hand is cramping while I'm trying to write this; my hands feeling strangely like claws after holding on for dear life to trekking poles for the last 3 weeks so I'm going to try to speed this up...  Mansfield has 2 summits, the Forehead and the Chin.  The Forehead is the wicked climb I've been describing complete with ladders, wooden bridges with no railings perched over significant drops, and the section that tried to kill me. More on that later.  Under dry conditions it would have been a hairy climb, with pouring rain, significant winds, and a 40 lb pack it was pretty friggin' scary, even for a lunatic like me.  I remember one ledge we had to skirt that had no handholds and me trying to block out what it was I was doing.  Now would be a good time to mention that I'm afraid of heights.  As with most things in my life, I have a tendency to run toward what terrifies me because I love the rush.  The series of wooden ladders were easy enough to handle, but were followed by the bridge without rails and the I Hate Tilt-A-Whirl climb.  We crossed the wet and slippery bridge (which I actually had to do 3 times because I was looking for Sarah to tell her to turn around), and were faced with the largest obstacle of the trip.  It was a section of rock that slanted down toward what would be a brutal, possibly lethal fall, with another slab of rock serving as an overhang.  The overhang was so tight that it was impossible to squeeze up the crack with a pack without getting so close to the edge that you'd probably fall.  In the past when we'd gotten to sections like this we would throw our packs up ahead of us and then climb.  The distance was too great for this.  While I sat there with a blank look on my face Mountain Goat came up with the idea to climb ahead, drop the rope that we hung our bear bags with down to me, tie the rope around the backpack, and then hoist each of the packs to the small but flat ledge she was sitting on.  I pushed, she pulled while straddling the ledge, and we got the packs up without pitching them over the big drop.  Mountain Goat=SUPERWOMAN!!!  At this point we became really concerned about Sarah, who had been hiking about an hour behind us, trying to tackle this section.  I decided I would scream her name down into the valley with the hope that she would hear me and take the bad weather route.  I ended up crossing the butterflies in stomach inducing bridge 3 times but we never heard from her.  I ended up leaving her a note held down by a rock at the top of the ladder because I was afraid that we'd been standing still long enough that hypothermia was again a possibility.  It was my turn to climb up to Mountain Goat.  I wedged myself as far into the overhang as I could and gently worked my way up and over the the top to the flat little section that Goat had been standing on.  The rest of the climb, the summit of the Chin, was so spooky and dreamlike that it felt like we were walking on another planet.  The fog was incredibly thick, the trees had all but disappeared, and the trail was a series of huge rocks and minute vegetation.  The Chin summit was anti-climactic.  There was a visitor center, a few bored volunteers standing and talking to each other, so we bailed quickly and began our descent down the backside of the mountain to Taft (????????????) Lodge.  The climb down to Taft was murder; slick rock, flowing streams, a twisted up ankle and then, as had happened every time I started to circle the drain, we came upon a beautiful spacious, enclosed, warm, and dry shelter to spend the night.  It was our safe haven.  The shelter was so big we each had our own 2 person bunk, a table inside so that we could eat like human beings, and a really nice caretaker named Graham who kept the shelter and the surrounding trail in great shape.  Being able to sit and eat at a table was something that we cherished on the trip.  Meals were usual cooked/consumed sitting on the ground or rocks, logs, or with our feet hung over the edge of the shelter.  To be able to sit and eat like a normal human being was a small gift.  It was a reward that equalled the difficulties we'd faced all day and was made even better knowing that I'd be heading into town the following morning to stay at Nye's Green Valey Farm B&B.  

 

"No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied-it speaks in silence to the very core of your being". Ansel Adams

 

Yup, that's the trail.

 

The bridge to nowhere good.

 

Mountain Goat leading the way.

 

Now THAT was easy!!!

 

Tuesday
Oct092012

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words? Recent photos...

Snow on Mount Belvedere Monday morning.

Mount Belvedere 2Hey look, they named a perch after me!Corlisa shelter Sunday night. Pretty sweet.Taft Lodge just north of the summit of Mansfield.Mountain Goat and Sarah inside Taft after hellish day on Mansfield.I tore a huge hole in my shoe yesterday. Water and mud poured inside. Ouch. Last full day.This is what the people at work have done to track my progress. Too nice for words.Another pic of the board they have set up on the wall.

Sunday
Oct072012

October 6th

It's Friday night at about 8 o'clock and I'm sitting in my sleeping bag with all of my clothes on.  The thermometer on the wall read 40 degrees a few hours ago and there's a cold front coming through.  I'm in the Corliss shelter, a nice cabin with two sets of bunk beds, a nice break from the 8 hours and 16 miles of rain we walked through today.  Today was the first day in a while where I didn't have at least one meltdown.  My legs barely get tired anymore and I'm finally getting numb to the rain.  I need to talk about climbing Mt. Mansfield a few days ago and the horror show day that was yesterday.  I'm so goofy at this point that I may have talked about Mansfield already.  Maybe I'll keep this short and tell you what I've been thinking about now that I have less than 5 days to go.  As you can probably imagine it's a strange mix of contradictory emotions.  My dad joked before I left that I might not come back.  No chance of that happening.  There are so many things I'll miss when this is over: the amazing people of Vermont who have treated me like gold even though I was filthy and disgusting, the amazing characters that I've met along the way, the beauty of this state even when it's shown me its worst, and the simplicity of life out here.  Eat, sleep, walk.  It's so simple but not one day has been easy.  My easiest day out here was much harder than any days I have back home.  Even though I feel a little guilty about saying it, I miss watching TV, miss Subway “sammiches,” miss not only the people I work with but my actual job, and, I don't know, so much more.  It's a bit early in the game to start getting all sentimental considering I still have over 50 miles to go, but this is all I've got for tonight.  Climbing Mt. Mansfield will require its own post since it was one of the most frightening things I've ever done (while sane).

Thanks to all the people who have texted, emailed, called, and left comments.  Sorry if I haven't gotten back to you.  Sometimes I've been too exhausted and I know I've responded to a bunch that never went through.  Verizon seems to like northern VT much more than the southern part of the state.


Enough.