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
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