It's 3:50 in the morning and I'm tucked inside my sleeping bag on top of Killington in the Cooper Lodge shelter. I woke up way too early yesterday and hatched a plan to make a 25 mile run to the Inn At The Long Trail and spend 2 days there. I got up at 4:30, put on my headlamp and loaded my gear and was on the trail by 5:30. It was my first time night hiking and it felt pretty awesome. I had some blister trouble brewing on the arch of my foot and though I wanted to haul ass to get to a warm bed, small problems become big ones when not taken care of. I have a nice length of duct tape wrapped around my arch that did the trick and I was off. There was a climb out of Route 104 that was so brutal that I had to basically crawl up on my hands and knees.
So much of the day is a blur but I remember getting to the Clarendon shelter, checking my guidebook and realizing that I'd completely F'd up my plan and that it would take me another 12 hours to reach the Inn. That realization occurred at 11:00 am. The guidebooks that I'm using list the miles between shelters and also pretty accurately estimates the time it takes to get from place to place. As a runner I only looked at the miles, not realizing that an 8 mile day could take as many hours as a 17 mile day given the difficulty of the terrain. What I failed to take into account is the 4 mile 5 hour climb up Killington toward the end of the day. My mood plummeted, the nightmare factory fired up, and I just wanted to be off the trail. I also chose to ignore a rerouting of the trail that added about 6 road miles and chose instead to stay on the Hurricane Irene damaged trail. There were sections where the trail was only marked by little stone piles called cairns, and there were anxious minutes crossing streams and looking for any sort of trail markings. Being in the woods has a way of correcting any sort of down mood. You can either lay down on the trail and wait for someone that's not coming to swing by and help you, or you keep walking. I put on my big boy pants and kept walking. I looked like a guy summiting Everest on my climb up Killington. 2 steps, breathe, 2 steps, breathe. There were a few miles of false summits (spirit breakers) but I finally made it to the shelter ahead of the wind and freezing rain. I was physically and mentally depleted. It took less than 10 minutes of unpacking for me to feel so fucking alive. There were miles, there were mountains, and there was a pile of self doubt but then it was over. I got to spend a wonderful night with Mtn. Goat (who I didn't think I would see again), Pooh Bear, a southbound AT thru hiker, 3 people and their dog Olive. It was amazing. The wind howled across the tree tops, the rain whipped into the shelter just shy of soaking us, and we lay in our sleeping bags, our safe havens from the weather until the sun rose.