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musings from the studio and beyond ~

dawn chandler’s reflections on art and life. . . .


cutting a [creative] path to those deep woods

At this point in my Vermont sojourn, my Long Trail journal starts to ricochet. My next entry is five days after I limped off the trail in Manchester, uncertain of my future; I then time-travel and describe the past. My diary continues this way for the duration.

Alas, what I reluctantly realize now as I flip through the pages of my Long Trail diaries, is that after sharing the first week of my journey here with you, I simply haven’t the focus available to be able to continue editing and formatting those entries and photos in such a way as to make it sensible, to you, my lovely readers. An epic amount of deep work is gong to be required in order to bring the rest of it to you, and unfortunately autumn 2020 isn’t affording me that kind of time and clarity.

I’m sorry about that.

I promise you though that I will return to this project again in some way, at some point, and bring you along with me.

For now though, many of you already know how my adventure turned out, but for those of you who don’t — or others of you who just need to escape a little longer down the trail (and who can blame you in this unimaginably crazy autumn of 2020….) — here are links to some of my earlier (2015/16) reflections about my hike, listed in chronological top to bottom:

My Walk Across Vermont

Where A Walk Across Vermont Begins

Where a Walk Across Vermont Ends

Falling, Gratitude, and Why I Want to Return to the Trail

Finishing Unfinished Business

Lost & Found in the [Un]Real World

Walking Meditation

Meanwhile…. I’ll reveal to you a little [BIG] dream of mine:

To spend some time at a New England artist residency program editing my journal into a book, and creating a whole series of new paintings with which to illustrate it.

In fact — Shhhhhhh — I already started the paintings.
Back in the autumn of 2017, during a different kind of sojourn in Vermont I was able to get in a little art time, beginning a dozen or so paintings.
But I haven’t worked on them since. Instead, they’ve been wrapped up and hidden away like a secret little prayer. No one else (other than two very close friends back in Vermont) has ever seen these paintings.

Painting of Vermont's Long Trail by artist Dawn Chandler

I don’t know why I haven’t brought these out before. Surely it has something to do with the energy; that it doesn’t quite align to be painting Vermont when I’m surrounded by such a completely different (and incredible in its own way) landscape here in New Mexico.

And yet….

Covid-19 has prevented me from returning to these New England forests, to this beloved trail.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back….

Painting of Vermont's Long Trail by artist Dawn Chandler


. .

. . .


Maybe it’s time to cut a creative path back to those deep Vermont woods again…

Painting of Vermont's Long Trail by artist Dawn Chandler

Artist and LT NOBO Thru-hiker Dawn 'TaosDawn' Chandler heading across the top of Mount Mansfield on Vermont's Long Trail.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again!

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Photo of Dawn by Sylvie “Charger” Vidrine

prayer wrapped in my father’s red bandana

14 September 2015 — Day 6
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

So early the next morning I set off — first out of camp. My knee tied with Dad’s red bandanna.

Scenes on the Long Trail north of Stratton Pond. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Vermont birch trees. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

After thirty or forty minutes or so, Flagman caught up with me.

“How’s the knee feeling? “
“You know, I’m trying to just not think about it.”
“How about that bandana, is it helping?”
“I don’t know, but it was my Dad’s bandana… “
“So he’s hiking with you, looking after you. I believe in karma. I prayed for you last night. I can tell you’ve got spirit, and your spirit isn’t broken. That’s what makes the difference..”

We wished each other well, and he was off.

Maple leaves turning to red in early September along the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

[So far that morning] the trail was more or less level — the downhills weren’t too bad, and my knee, while not feeling great, didn’t feel as bad as yesterday.

LT/AT trail sign north of Stratton Pond, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

The morning was gray and a little foggy. [And the forest was beautiful, absolutely glistening from the previous day’s rain. I conflicted — enchanted by the beauty of the forest, and forlorn with the weight of uncertainty about what to do regarding my knee….]

I made it to the junction of Old Rootville Road and started the two-mile descent down. A nice backwoods road, but relatively steep and felt long. I wondered how/if I could manage coming back up it. At some point I saw headlights and a Subaru passed me coming up. I smiled to the car and trudged downward.

Just before the Old Rootville Road on the Long Trail. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Sign for the Old Rootville Road.

Although I knew the route was 2 miles, it felt longer than I expected.

Several streams ran down from the brown hardwood forest.

Eventually the road became less steep and began to level out, and an occasional little house appeared by the roadside and soon I found myself at a major intersection.

Not entirely sure where I was, I crossed over to a single tree in the intersection, pulled out my thermos of tea and my map and tried to get my bearings. Not two minutes later the Subaru [that had been] going up the Rootville Road came back and pulled up to the intersection. It then backed up a little bit and its windows came down: “Do you want a ride?” the driver called out. “I would LOVE a ride!”

He jumped out and cleared space in the back, “Don’t worry about any of the stuff,” he said, shoving aside stacks of old yellow papers that looked to be from the 19th century. “Are you an artist?” for the stuff looked like great collage material. “No, I just photograph a lot of this stuff.” In the front passenger seat was a very elderly but spry woman — his mother — up from Florida to bury her husband. She’d lived in Vermont for some seventy years, and they were out for a drive to visit some of her old haunts. He knew exactly where “Sutton’s Place” is, and in fact Frank Sutton was his high school French teacher many years ago. Drove me right to the door of a lovely New England Victorian clapboard-sided house down a quiet road, at the top of a small hill just a couple blocks from town.

Welcome to Manchester!

Sutton's Place in Manchester, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again!

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

uhh-oh my knee, ‘come to jesus’ & a clash of egos

13 September 2015 — Day 5
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

May that remain the most miserable night of my camping life.

Because the TarpTent SUCKS in a 12-HOUR VERMONT RAIN.

Because the rain comes down, hits the ground and bounces up and hits the soffits, splashing up into the tent and creating mist.

Then there’s the fact of the do-it-yourself seam seals. And no matter how carefully you seam-seal your tent, there’s probably a spot you could have done a bit better. UGH. Everything in my tent seemed to be getting damp — including my down sleeping bag. I had brought my plastic ground cover inside though (been using it to sleep on and keep my Thermarest clean), so I wrapped it around my sleeping bag like a big blue plastic cocoon. Safe and sound! Until… an hour or so later I reached between the tarp and my bag only to feel my sleeping bag was wet! NO ventilation under the blue plastic. SHIT. I was in for a damp sleepless night listening to pounding rain.

Justin fared no better under his TarpTent and, after an hour or so dove into Wahoo’s tent to join him and Gracie for the night.

All night long I lay there scheming ditching my tarp tent in Manchester and replacing it with a real tent. GOD DAMMIT! Why had I not just brought my perfectly good Big Agnes tent? Wooed by the UltraLight bullshit, that’s why. I have since talked to a couple of GMC staff who agree with me that the TarpTent isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be — at least not in a cold 12-hour September Vermont rainstorm.

My mantra that night — and throughout the tough times of this journey — was “This, too, shall pass.”

This, too, shall pass.
This, too, shall pass.
This, too, shall pass.

Over and over I repeated that to myself, trying to ignore the moisture dripping from the roof into my face. Somehow, eventually, I did get some sleep, but surely not enough.

Was gonna get up at 5:00, what with a long climb up Stratton Mountain. But at 5:00 it was still raining. If I was going to take down camp in the rain, I might as well wait until I at least had a bit of daylight.

Breaking down camp in the rain.
I don’t know when the last time was I had to do that. But it must be some 35 years ago. Even then, I don’t remember ever having to do it IN the rain — just AFTER the rain. Doesn’t matter. Then, now… It SUCKS.. Got the TarpTent down and stuffed it along with probably 3 pounds of extra water sopped into the sack. Lumbered over to grab my bear bags. I stood there and ate breakfast — a ProBar. Figured I’d just graze on bars and nut butters while hiking.

Shook the fellas’ tent at 6:30 — Wahoo wanted an early start.
“How did you fare Dawn?”
“Well most of my stuff is good and damp. Maybe not soaking wet, but definitely damp.”
“Well if you want WET, come on in here!”
The front lip of their tent was practically in a lake of a puddle.

Sketch of tent site locations on the Long Trail from Dawn Chandler's thru-hike journal.

All morning hiking through wet — if not actual rain — dripping trees and vegetation. I had my rain cover on my pack, my Gore-Tex jacket on, rain kilt and gators. REALLY glad for the gators which kept debris and crap out of my boots — I’d forgotten that benefit of them until I hiked on a sunny day without them.

Crossed the road after about 30 minutes or so, and upward I went. Once entering the forest again, I spotted a grey tarp tent on the right — I bet it was Smoky.

A white birch against a forest of green along the Long Trail of Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

Stratton Mountain is one of the high peaks of my journey, reaching up to about 4000 feet. I was intimidated about it, but Wahoo pointed out that you climb — you ascend — 2000 feet, but over the course of three miles each way. I appreciated that observation. Still, it was a slog, and the trail was hardly a trail, but a brook. (Again, grateful for SNOSEAL).

Concern Concern Concern was coursing through me with the fact that so much of my gear was wet. My spirit was low, but I kept trying to push it aside.
“This, too, shall pass… This too shall pass…”
The air was cool and, though the hard rain finally seem to stop, the sky was flat gray, with no sign of lifting.

My concern was hypothermia….. I looked up to the sky, put my hands together and called upon Mum and Dad:

“Help me keep myself safe.
Help me keep myself safe….”

then set the timer on my watch to go off every 20 minutes so that I would remember to ask myself,
“Am I warm?
Am I dry?
Am I sensible?”
…as I moved up in elevation conditions were only going to get worse.

And… now my knee was starting to talk to me. Not my usual problematic left knee, but my RIGHT knee — a dull ache deep inside, kind of below the knee cap and under the kneecap. Not constant, but rising up occasionally.

Curls of birch bark along the Long Trail of Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

Onward, trudging upward… At some point I started to notice the trees were transitioning into higher elevation conifers — a bit more stumpy and windblown. And soon I started to see gray light through the trees and then, suddenly, a gray wooden wall: a shed, or a little cabin. With a pitched roof. And a metal chimney, with smoke coming out: the Stratton Mountain caretaker’s cabin.
I gave a rap at the door and heard a voice from inside — “just a moment.” And then in the door appeared a grandmotherly woman bundled in layers including an obviously master-knitted “scrummy” (Mum’s word
[a combination of “scrumptious” & “yummy”]) raspberry wool cardigan in a greeny — slate bluey knitted woolen cap. She had paint all over her hands and on her clothes.
“I’m sorry to bother you. “
“No — not at all. “
“Oh! Are you a painter? “
“Yes I am.”
“I am, too! “
“Oh how wonderful! “
“But I just wanted to let you know the odd guy hanging out at Story Brook is still there as of yesterday afternoon.”

We then discussed him a bit. When she asked if he had said anything threatening to anyone, I said, I had not engaged him. “But I would not have felt comfortable staying there.”
“That’s all I need to know then; you said the magic words. I’ll call the sheriff and alert them.”

We then talked about art and the colors of Vermont versus New Mexico. She seemed quite willing to stand there in the drizzle and converse with me. I could have climbed into that shelter and talked with her all day, she was so warm and maternal and comforting. Seems that she and her husband live up there each summer from about June 1st or 15th to October 20th — been doing it for years. She also knows well Frank Sutton of Sutton’s Place where I was going to be staying in Manchester. She said I’d have no problem catching a ride once I got to the road. “Everyone knows what you’re doing; they’re happy to help.” Reluctantly I moved on — although actually I think she was even more reluctant then I to end our conversation. First though she gave me her card — beautiful paintings — and jotted down my website.

Green Mountain birch trees along the Long Trail in Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

Chiming in now from my New Mexcio home, on the 12th of September, 2020 as I work on transcribing the pages of my LT Journal…. A few details worth mentioning regarding my LT journey of 2015:

— I did not carry a cell phone with me. The reason is because I wanted to be fully present on the trail. I didn’t want the temptation of an easy “escape” by way of the internet. The point was to get away from all of that.
I DID however carry a satelite phone in case of an emergency, and to check in very occasionally with loved ones.

— At this point I knew no one in Vermont. My closest personal connection to Vermont was my friend Heather, whom I’ve known all my life. In 2015 she had a vacation home in Stowe, but lived in Rochester, NY. She graciously volunteered to deliver me to the trailhead at the start of my journey, with the plan to meet me at Journey’s End a few weeks later near Canada.
To reiterate though, aside from Heather, there was no one in Vermont I really knew. This fact added to my worry if something were to go wrong.

— The GMC has a “Trail Mentor” program. If you are planning a thru-hike, they will put you in touch with “mentors” who have hiked the trail. I was put in touch with about a dozen generous people, but the one who really stood out was a gal my age — Sylvie — who, the year before, had thru-hiked the LT in honor of HER 50th birthday — so we had that in common. Trail name “Charger” and a resident of Vermont, she provided me with an incredible about of sage advice, as well as offered up her home to me if I needed a break from the trail. Sylvie/Charger and I had never met though, so I was reluctant to lean on her too much.

— The GMC has a whole army of staff and volunteers who maintain the trails. They also maintain the latrines, many of which are composting or moldering. Maintaining the latrines — being a “shit shoveler” — is a nasty but crucial job.

— In trail parlance, a “Zero Day” is a day of no mileage, a rest day. I had scheduled no rest days. This was stupid. But the truth is I didn’t know any better. My itinerary was based on those of others who had gone before me, and some of them hadn’t had any rest days. So, basing my plan on theirs, I thought my itinerary reasonable — especially as I was giving myself five weeks to hike the trail, and most people seemed to do it in four weeks or less.

— Another source of anxiety was that I was on a tight schedule. Though I had planned no Zero Days, I HAD planned on spending one night each week at a different inn or other accommodation, so that I could clean up, do laundry, sleep in a real bed, and pick up my food drops, which I had shipped in advance from New Mexico. I had booked those accommodations and planned my food carefully per my itinerary, so I was under pressure to stay on schedule.

Okay, back to my journal and my long walk across Vermont…

Beautiful Green Mountain birch trees along the Long Trail in Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

[After speaking with Jean the caretaker on the summit of Stratton Mountain] … I moved on… It seems to me I walked flat for just a short while when the descent began — down the waterway brook-trail of water, stepping carefully so as not to step on wet rocks, wet logs, wet roots. My knee started moaning and by the time, finally, I was approaching Stratton Pond a couple of hours later, my knee was screaming, and I was struggling to keep from bawling with frustration and exhaustion and anxiety.
Wondering if I should bail.
Thinking I should bail.
Mad at the thought of bailing.
Desperately wanting to bail.
Getting into Manchester and ending it there. I could rent a car and drive around Vermont and maybe even over to Rochester. Visit Exeter [New Hampshire, where I have family]. But I just couldn’t see how my knees could continue

Stopped for lunch by a lovely brook and assessed my knees: was bent over, ass to the trail, massaging my knees when “WHAAA!”
I shrieked with the sound of someone behind me. “Hello! Sorry to scare you!”

It was a group of eight or so college students from SUNY Binghampton — the Outing Club. Out for a few days during Rosh Hashanah break. Staying at Stratton Pond, hiking for the afternoon up to the peak. (Really? They seemed ill-prepared with only a couple of daypacks among them.) All young men except for their club president who was a young Asian woman. Very friendly though and expressed concern over my knees, and offered me a ride back if I was back at the parking lot by the time they got back to it tomorrow morning.

Taking a break along a stream on Vermont's Long Trail south of Stratton Mountain.
A beautiful Vermont stream somewhere between Stratton Mountain and Stratton Pond. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

Sometime later I came upon Emily who was just a bright and competent spirited spot of joy in my day. She’s the supervisor here of several of the caretakers and “Chief Shit Shoveler.” We shared our infatuation of Jean at the top of the mountain, and our concern about “those college kids” from SUNY being obviously ill prepared. (She said not all of them had rain gear! “That’s THE OUTDOOR CLUB! I am NOT impressed!” My alarm went off, and I explained what it was for. “I LOVE that — you’re prepared!” I told her of my concern about my knees and she admitted these trails are tough. “But Stratton Pond is a great place to assess. It’s been my place to have a “come to Jesus moment.” You’re just about a half mile and you’ll be able to get some good rest there. Go find Carly (the caretaker) — she’s got some sangria.”

A bit cheered, we parted ways, and some twenty or thirty minutes later I found myself at a cool, split level, big-porched modern shelter, with no one in sight.

Stratton Pond Trail sign, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.
Long-Appalachian Trail - North sign at Stratton Pond, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

I chose a low bunk near the front, and laid out my gear to dry, draping my sleeping bag upside down over a bunk ladder. Found the composting toilet, and then went to find water, the caretaker (to pay — five dollars at high use sites) and attempt to call Joe and Heather.

Teary call/message to Joe [My Good Man, who was back in New Mexcio]; practical message and conversation with Heather: heartwarming conversation with Carly, the caretaker. The one thing I was comforted by was this: I was NOT going to decide today about my knee. I would wait until tomorrow, see how that descent went, and decide in Manchester whether or not to call it quits.

The Stratton Pond Shelter, Vermont. Photo by artist and LT thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

Back at Stratton Pond Shelter, Justin had arrived as well as an older Ed Harris type former military powerhouse of a hiker, “Flagman.” What a talker! Mainly about himself — always the hero of his own story — but passionate about the trail. He made it his personal mission to “counsel” me, suggesting that it didn’t have to be “all or nothing.” “Give your knee a rest — take a zero day in Manchester. Then slow down and take it easy. So you only make it to Johnson? Not all the way to Journey’s End — at least you will have been out here on the trail. You’ve put aside all this time and resources to make this journey happen. Stick with it if you possibly can. Change it if you have to. But don’t throw in the towel. I hope you stick it out; I hope you stay on the trail.”

When Wahoo eventually showed up, those two egos clashed; you could feel it.

Wahoo had suggested I tie a bandanna around my knee — just below it. He said he was advised to do that back on the AT when he had knee problems, and it seemed to help him. [Wahoo then left for water and Carly showed up.]

Flagman, Carly and I were talking about it and also about the odd dude at Story Brook. I told them how Wahoo insisted on hiking with me through that section.
Flagman said, “then I misjudged him. That right there speaks of integrity. I took him to be a young know-it-all, and here I am an old know-it-all, and when we met there was tension immediately. But that tells me the guy has integrity.” He was impressed.
He also said that the bandanna idea was a good one, and urged me to ice my knees and elevate them in Manchester. “And stay hydrated! Extend your [trekking] polls on the downhill.”

Artist Dawn Chandler starting her solo backpacking trek across the length of Vermont on the Long Trail.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again!

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

first light, a sea of trees, a worrisome mystery hiker & a twelve-hour downpour

11 September 2015 — Day 3
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

On the Long Trail, sign for the Glastenbury Wilderness of the Green Mountains. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

Set my alarm for 5:45 (got up to pee only once — it was raining, but not too hard). Got up well before Justin, but he got up by the time I was finishing my breakfast. Hit the trail with full rain garb on: jacket, kilt and gators, although the rain had stopped — this was mainly to keep dry from the wet foliage. After about an hour I became pretty warm, so started peeling rain gear, and soon after that the sun began to shine through, making the forest shimmer — just gorgeous!

For “first tea,” I found a beautiful overlook spot that looked out across a tapestry of close hills approaching autumn, and distant mountains fading to soft purple — a perfect spot to sketch and enjoy my tea. Grateful.

Perfect rest spot for morning tea along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler

The rest of the day is a bit of a blur — it was lovely in the sunshine.

Light filtering through the trees on the Long Trail of Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn Chandler.

At some point I came upon Justin — he must have passed me — but found him relaxing over lunch, so I joined him. Later on we would meet up again at Goddard Shelter, which I got to around 3:00, I think…

Vermont flora on the Long Trail. Photos by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Goddard Shelter on the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

When I arrived at Goddard I was greeted by a beautiful small dog barking at me: GracieLou. Her owner — a chubby guy in his mid 30s. ‘She’s friendly.” Turns out this is Tim “Wahoo!” from Florida. My first impression of Wahoo is that he’s an opinionated blowhard. And actually that’s pretty accurate.
But he has a big heart… Details coming.

Next to show up was Rob from Hunterton, New Jersey, originally from CT. Total New York/New Jersey accent. Clean-cut, maybe a few years older than me — mid/late 50s? Upbeat and opinionated — especially regarding people’s gear and the weight they’re carrying. Every item you pulled out of your pack, the first question was, “What’s that? How much does that weigh?” Most times after learning the weight, he’d proclaim, “Too heavy!” He was out just for a night or two, taking a quick couple days off for a bit of New England hiking.

Goddard Shelter is the nicest shelter I’ve yet seen. While the the others have been made of very, very dark wood, Goddard seems filled with light thanks to light gray “bleached” wood. There are a few surprising carpentry flourishes that add a nice touch. Beside Goddard is a surprising patch of rich, verdant grass ± like LAWN grass — dense and thick. Justin and Ron splayed out in the grass when the sun was shining brilliantly.

Wahoo was packing up his gear getting ready to hike on to Kid Gore Shelter. Turns out he’s a late sleeper and late hiker. But he did the whole AT in 2008, so he seems to know what works for him. Eventually Rob headed up to the fire tower atop Glastenbury Mountain, while Justin and I busied ourselves with organizing our gear.
Rob returned a while later to report that the view was incredible; I walked up (.3 mile) to check it out for myself and, indeed, it is pretty wonderful. The top of the peak is densely wooded with conifers, and the fire tower juts up like a huge erector set.
Justin would eventually head up there with all of his gear after dinner to spend the night atop the tower.

Looking across a sea of trees from Vermont's Glastenbury Peak on the Long Trail. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

Back at the shelter, Rob and I fixed our dinners, he asking about my trip and why I was doing it. At some point he said, “I really applaud what you’re doing. To mark a turning point birthday [my 50th] with a big goal and accomplishment; I think that’s great.”

Around the time we were starting to think about crashing for the night, we heard voices. Who should appear by an “older” woman — tall, slender, with long grey dreadlocks — carrying a pack. Shortly behind her was her hiking partner, a plump, stout woman, maybe a bit older, also with a pack. Enter Susan and Carol, two friends from Burlington, Vermont who decided at 50 they were going to hike the whole Long Trail over the course of their sixth decade (50s to 60s). They started north some years earlier and were now nearing the end of their journey.

When it came time to go to bed, Carol pulled out an air mattress (Sea to Summit?) and a battery powered inflator! Rob rolled his eyes. “Too heavy!” She defended that at her age (58) she was allowed a few toys. I defended her “If a person is willing to carry it, they can bring anything they want!” “Too heavy,” Rob insisted. “I tell you, there are more gear weight snobs in these shelters…!” That shut him up a little bit (I should mention that he initially pooh-poohed my killer bear bags and my Luci Lamp, but eventually came around to deciding he needed both. HA!). As we were easing into our sleeping bags, Carol said that she’s been told she snores.
“Is that right, Susan — don’t I snore?”
“Yes. You snore.”

A few minutes later enter the southbound train horn through a dark tunnel. GOOD Lord!! I’ve never heard such snoring! It was loud and ferocious enough to keep wildlife awake for a 5 mile radius. She’s GOT TO have sleep apnea, that’s all I can figure. Thank God one of my mentors suggested earplugs! I brought two sets just in case I lose one!

12 September 2015 — Day 4
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail

The Glastenbury fire tower in first light. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

With all that noise throughout the night, I felt not a bit of guilt getting up at 5:00ish to start packing up. Rob was already up, fixing his breakfast outside on the grass, so he wouldn’t disturb anyone — pretty thoughtful. I tried to pack up as quietly as possible but I know that even the smallest sounds are amplified like a speaker in the shelters. I heated some water to make tea in my thermos and hit the trail — back up to the fire tower — leaving the snoring Susan and Carol behind.

As I approached the summit, the woods were in dark, dark shadow — I needed my headlamp to make out the trail. By the time I reached the tower, the clearing around the summit was softening into gray and the tower top shone orange in the early light. Up the seven flights of stairs to join the fellas — Justin and Rob — atop.

I actually was feeling a little queasy — not from the height but I think from the hiker’s diet — so I sat down on the floor — we still had 10 – 15 minutes until the sun would brim over the eastern mountains. From this spot, more wild Vermont forest can be seen than from any other spot in the state. For it is a sea of evergreen everywhere you look.

And then, “here she comes.”

Sunrise from the Glastenbury fire tower on Vermont's Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Long Trail hikers greeting the morning sun from the Glastenbury firetower. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Sunrise light across southern Vermont on the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

I stood up and we three watched in silence as a glorious shimmering red orb of light rose over the purple-blue hills. “Red sky at morning…” I said. I waited a few more minutes to watch the color warm the evergreen tops; a small raptor of some sort — striped tail — flew below us.
“Anyone want some coffee?” Justin asked. I gratefully declined, feeling the need to push on, and left the two of them to enjoy their sunrise coffee.

Dawn light illuminating the tree tops along the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
A gnarled old tree along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Forest light and lichens along the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
A mossy stair section of the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Kid Gore Shelter along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

A few hours later I came to Kid Gore shelter. A dog ran out barking — it was Miss GracieLou, happy to see me. Wahoo & GracieLou apparently had the shelter to themselves that previous night. Wahoo said he built a fire that night and burned all sorts of trash he found around the shelter and along the trail.
He went up a few points in my estimation with that.
I went to use the latrine, only to find some graffiti on the door — something about boozing it up, “taking sluts” and living free — attributed to Thomas Jefferson and written in permanent marker. Back down at the cabin I put to Wahoo, “What kind of person decides to pack a permanent marker just so they could write on a latrine door? Apparently there’s a lot of people who think that way, based on the graffiti written with thick Sharpies!”

I will say though, compared to New Mexico, these shelters are pristine — the privies, too. And there’s no graffiti carved into the trees — NONE. That’s one of the most heart-breaking facts of hiking in the Santa Fe National Forest: On the main trails, nearly every sizable aspen within a 3-4 mile radius of the parking area is carved and scarred with names and initials. In fact my favorite aspen grove near my favorite sit spot — I had been there to paint one day, and a week later I brought Joe there and someone had carved their name and date in an aspen right above my log. Bullet shells were pressed into divots in the sit log.

A wildly curved tree trunk along the Long Trail in southern Vermont. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

After a snack, I hiked on. The woods were dense with undergrowth and felt “close.” I especially like it when there’s breathing space among the trees and the under-story isn’t so compact. Was it this day when — on two separate occasions — I spotted two toads? Made me smile and think of Mum. She loved toads and so do I. I’ve never seen one in New Mexico.

Eventually when the forest became tall again, I stopped for a lunch break. Two hikers — a young man and woman, covered in “tats” and wired into Smart phones came Southbound. I greeted them and they stopped to chat for a few minutes. Heavy New York/New Jersey accents, they’re AT section hikers. “If you go to Story Brook Shelter, there’s the weirdest guy there. He’s been camped out there for five days and is bumming food off of people… He says he’s an AT thru-hiker, but when we asked him about some trail details he didn’t really answer. He only has a day pack so he can’t be a thru-hiker! But he was saying things like ‘my family hates me… My friends hate me… My whole town hates me….’ The guy is weird!”

Great. My original plan was to stay at Story Brook Shelter — although I was thinking of pushing on just a couple miles farther to some unofficial sites not far from the road before beginning the ascent of Stratton Mountain. But still, I didn’t want to encounter this guy.

I knew Wahoo was behind me and thought that maybe when he caught up to me I’d ask him if he wouldn’t mind hiking with me past the shelter — though I kind of hated to slow him down. The concern was moot, because when he did catch up with me — GracieLou came running up to me — he asked, “Did you hear about the weird guy up ahead?” He then offered, “Why don’t Gracie and I hike with you through this section?” DAMN THOUGHTFUL. I gushed with appreciation which he waved off. “No problem. That’s what we do on the trail: We look out for each other.”

And so we hiked together with me mainly asking questions and Wahoo happy to talk about himself. In the course of an hour of hiking together I learned that he had been married, “Not to be offensive but my usual joke line is that I got rid of THAT bitch and replaced her with THIS bitch,” gesturing to GracieLou. I learned that he recently had an affair with a married woman; learned that he’s been to over 50 some-odd countries thanks to his former job with something to do with charter planes for the military; learned that his gay neighbors (“which is fine”) use 10,000 gallons of water per month. Yaadaada-yaadaada-yaadaada. At least he was cheerful and, despite constantly talking, relatively pleasant company. And GracieLou was a joy to hike with!

A Vermont marsh along the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

We passed through Story Brook and the guy was there, lying on his back on the floor, looking into a cell phone — not sure if there was anything on the screen or not. We dropped our packs over to the side of the building. Wahoo said something about lightening Gracie’s pack and losing some of the weight, when the guy sprang up, came over and asked us if we had any food to spare. “No, sorry, dude.” Wahoo chastised him a little bit, and the guy said he thought he overheard him say something about wanting to “lose weight.” But the guy seemed rather harmless, just off his meds. We were surprised by how young he is — maybe early 20s. Looked like he had a tent pitched off to the side and some things hanging on a line. We stayed just a few minutes to grab a quick bite to eat, then pushed on. I didn’t engage the guy at all. Though perhaps harmless, I still would not have felt comfortable AT ALL staying there with him, especially were I alone with him. We continued on down the trail — though before we pushed off Wahoo went back and gave the guy two granola bars — and this with Wahoo running low on food.

After 20 minutes or so down the trail, Wahoo and Gracie took off with assurances that we’d likely see each other down the trail — perhaps even at the camping area by the river and the Stratton-Arlington Road.

One thing that encouraged me a bit is that at some point before Stony Brook Shelter, when Wahoo and I were hiking together, we were talking about pace. I have found the estimates in the GMC guidebook to be very aggressive; I need to add at least an hour or two to their estimates — which becomes worrisome, especially on these 9+ hour days I’ve estimated. But he commented that I was “making good time.” This is the second time someone said that. The first time was on my 2nd day when I was leap-frogging with that young man and his mother, and about the 3rd time I came upon them — on Consultation Peak, I think it was — he politely said, you’re making good time.” I said, “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I sure appreciate it!” I didn’t have a chance to write much about them earlier, but they were lovely. Turns out he just graduated from St. John’s College in Santa Fe. In fact the ENTIRE family — all siblings and both parents — went to St. Johns in SF, and the father/husband is on the faculty. So they divide their time between SF and Washington, DC.

Back to Day 4….

I got down to the river maybe around 4:30 or so, where there were a couple of good campsites on either side of the foot bridge.

Wahoo and Smoky were conversing around the fire ring of the best one. They were both planning to push on. I decided to camp there and set up my TarpTent. This would be my first time using it and only second time ever pitching it. Chance of rain was good for that night, so I took some care in setting it up.

Footbridge across a beautiful Vermont Stream on the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.
Gorgeous Vermont brook along the Long Trail. Photo by artist and thru-hiker Dawn TaosDawn Chandler.

A little later Justin appeared and decided to join me in camping there. Smoky moved on — he’s an AT NOBO hiker and has 500 miles to go to Katahdin — might not make it in time.
Wahoo was undecided whether or not to stay. He’s running low on food for Miss Gracie. I offered him some beef jerky for Gracie (which made Gracie and me best buds for life!)

Wahoo decided to stay, and set up his tent close to the center of the clearing in the middle of the site, where there was little detritus. Funny, had I studied that spot more carefully, I would have realized there’s no debris there because rainfall pools up and washes it away. That would only become apparent the next morning.

We all cheerfully fixed our dinners and then gathered firewood. JB got a good fire going (Eagle Scout), taking over Wahoo’s sorry attempt. Just as the fire was going strong, raindrops started coming down, slowly and infrequently at first, and then of course, a little harder… and harder… and harder.


Artist Dawn Chandler starting her solo backpacking trek across the length of Vermont on the Long Trail.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again!

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

five years ago today I set out to walk across vermont

Vermont’s Long Trail:

It was grueling.

It was anxiety-riddled.

It was way, way, way harder than I ever imagined.

I’d give anything to go back and do it again.

My goal was to solo backpack the 273 miles of Vermont’s Long Trail. Though over the years I’ve shared some of my photos and story of why I was inspired to hike the trail, I’ve never shared pages from my private journal.

So honor this important anniversary, I thought I’d share some of my private musings from my journal pages.

First, a few clarifications:

— Though I’d been backpacking before, I’d never done it alone, nor had I ever attempted such a long distance.

— To get to the southernmost trailhead of the Long Trail (LT), I started in Massachusetts on the Pine Cobble Trail. After 3.3 miles the Pine Cobble meets the Vermont border at the junction with the Long Trail — as well as the Appalachian Trail (AT).

— At the Massachusetts/Vermont border, the AT merges with the LT, and they are the same trail for 105 miles. After 105 miles, at Maine Junction, the Long Trail continues north through Vermont to Canada, and the Appalachian Trail turns eastward to New Hampshire and Maine.

— A thru-hiker is someone who is hiking the whole trail — the full length of it — in one long hike; a section hiker is one who, rather than hiking a long-distance trail in one fell swoop, does a section at a time.

NOBO = northbound; SOBO = southbound; I was a NOBO LT thru-hiker.

— Both the LT and the AT are marked with white blazes painted along the path. Side trails (like the Pine Cobble) are marked with blue blazes.

— GMC = Green Mountain Club is the terrific organization that protects and maintains the Long Trail and other Vermont trails.

— There are about sixty shelters along the LT, some of which are simple three-sided lean-tos, while others are more elaborate enclosed cabins. Although I carried a tent, my plan was to stay in a shelter whenever I could. Even hikers with tents though often camped near the shelters, as there was almost always a water source nearby, as well as the comradery of other hikers.

— Each shelter has a log book, where hikers share their reflections, trail conditions, and often notes to each other. In each book that I logged into, I left a tiny colorful card (1.5″ x 1.5″) with a detail of one of my paintings and a quote by Rumi.

— Nearly every thru-hiker and section-hiker adopts a trail name. Mine was (surprise!) TaosDawn.

Now then…. Come, hike with me across Vermont:

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.
— Brene Brown (quoting a saying of the Asaro tribe of Indonesia)

Artist Dawn Chandler starting her Walk across Vermont at the Pine Cobble Trail in NW Massachusetts. Photo by Heather Coburn Snyder.

September 9, 2015 — Day One of The Long Trail — Wednesday

3:00 and I am alone in my first home on the LT. Heather dropped me off at Pine Cobble trailhead at 7:45.

I think we were both trying hard not to cry. Six miles into this and it is exactly as I expected it: Hard. I don’t care how far above sea level I am, uphill with a pack is uphill with a pack! It seems to me any gain from hiking at altitude is completely trumped by humidity, which today — at 90° — has been utterly wilting, the sweat gushing from my brow and neck. These first few days are going to be a serious test.

Today, sunny, hot and very humid; tomorrow heavy rain — on one of my longest days. Trying to keep a positive attitude and not fret about tomorrow: just focus on today and be in the moment. But the truth is I’m scared about tomorrow.

The Pine Cobble Trail in northwestern Massachusetts. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Deep breath.

One day at a time.

Last night when I checked the weather and looked at the map I thought of bumping up my hike today and aiming for Congdon Shelter rather than Seth Warner, which would have made for a 13 mile hike today rather than tomorrow. But everyone I’ve seen hiking today seems younger, faster and with a lighter pack. And the heat is debilitating, My concern is that I would have gotten into camp so late, that there would be no room for me. So better, I think, to stick to my original plan. I’m concerned, too, by the fact that today, at least, I was slower than the GMC estimates. They had 4 hours from Pine Cobble to SW, and it took me almost 5. I don’t want to obsess about my speed…BUT… a 13-mile day tomorrow with a couple of SERIOUS ascents in HEAVY RAIN has me concerned.

Blue blaze of the Pine Cobble Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Would do well to keep in mind Rumi:

To be self-conscious is to worry about everything but . . .
What will be will be.

~ Rumi

AT Thru-hikers Bear Hookah & Lovel at the Seth Warner Shelter. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Just after 7:00… The rain started about 10 or 15 minutes ago … lounging in the shelter with a young couple from WI — Bear Hookah & Lovel — and Barnum (whose dog, Bailey — a beautiful four-year old weimaramer — is crashed in his tent).

These are my favorites of the people I’ve met today. When I got to the Vermont border — and the start of the Long Trail — a young woman, Lauren, and her friend hiked up, on her way to thru-hike. Half my age, she also appeared to be carrying half the weight that I’m carrying. A few minutes of visiting and picture-taking, then I took off to give them a chance to bid their goodbyes — after they checked their cell phone messages (!). Thirty minutes later she passed me for Congden.

Welcome to Massachusetts sign on the Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Welcome to Vermont The Long Trail sign at the Mass/VT border. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
White blaze on the LT/AT. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Sunlight through the trees of the Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Now that I think of it though, the first people I encountered were a couple of day-hikers — two tall, baldish men who barely acknowledged me. They were deep in conversation about the Bible. A little later a couple of other similar looking men, who were gracious, thanking me for stepping aside so they could pass, and wishing me well. A little later, three AT section hikers headed south — seemed college-aged. After that, no one until — Finally! I made it to Seth Warner Shelter.

Sign for the Set Warner Shelter. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Seth Warner Shelter on the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

A lovely young man greeted me. He was taking his lunch, having started a northbound LT hike today as well! His name is Justin from RI, originally but most recently from Maine. And he’s been to Philmont! We visited for a nice short while, when he finally pushed on, hoping to make it to Congdon.

Next to show up was “Running Moose” from Kansas. SOBO AT hiker headed to GA. He looked like a child! But had a red beard and a great deal of chest hair brimming from his shirt (!) Had a purple sash tied around his head and was very soft-spoken and thoughtful. Thought before he spoke. Contemplative. Very pleasant.

I then had an hour or two to myself after he left, during which time I got water, played my flute, wrote, sketched and relaxed. Next to arrive were Barnum & Bailey. Barnum is a former army dude turned philosopher/hiker. Says he was a real “Reagan Republican” until the Bush years and serving in Iraq. Now he’s a diehard liberal; good fun to talk with and listen to, and his pup — Bailey — is a sweetheart.

Barnum and Bailey.

These mountains or the oldest in the world.
There’s magic in these mountains.
I can guarantee you that.

~ Barnum

September 10, 2015 — Day 2 — The Long Trail, Vermont

A short heavy shower last night at 6:00. A few other hikers showed up for water and shelter from the rain. But only two of us slept in the shelter: Bear and me. All hit the hay by dark and, despite rolling around a lot, I slept pretty well. Up to pee twice. Then up with my alarm at 5:45. Lesson learned: load up on the day’s water the night before, as I went through water faster than expected and had to fetch more in the morning.

Broke camp and on the trail by 7:20 — a little later than I’d hoped. The morning started with a gradual but challenging uphill and deep humidity and heat. Honestly? I was miserable, fighting self-doubt and worry about the 13 miles ahead and forecast of heavy rain. A couple of hikers passed me — a woman about my age and a much younger college-aged man. Mother & son doing a section of the AT. After about 45 mins I decided to put away my watch — something I will do every day now once I hit the trail. A reminder from my Rangering days that




Was feeling uneasy and anxious, when I came to a side trail to a spring. Even though I didn’t visit the spring, for some reason it cheered me — just having a place on the map that I could identify lifted my spirits. Soon after that I climbed to a high clearing under power lines. The clouds were low so I couldn’t see very far, but still, I could see the sides of distant mountains. I decided to stop and have some tea and study my map. I felt instantly at peace and satisfied…

Pack and power-lines under a grey sky on the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Eventually this day I made my way beside a beautifully marshy pond. The sky was overcast all day, but no rain in the morning, at least.

One of the many marshes along Vermont's Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
A marsh along Vermont's Long Trail. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
AT and LT signs along the trail on Harmon Hill. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

By midday I was beside the beautiful Stradford Stream, where I dined at Congdon Shelter with “Smoky” a NOBO AT hiker who was sitting there, rather mellow, having a cigarette (!!) After lunch I decided to push on as planned and head to Melville Nauheim Shelter. Smoky commented “It’s a beautiful day isn’t it?” And I realized, yes, it is. Overcast, cooler and no rain — it was beautiful.

Eventually a couple of light drizzle showers passed through, but barely enough to require a rain jacket. The last descent of the day was down Harmon Hill — very steep down long slick stairs. I had to walk very carefully, as the moss, leaves and rocks — all damp — were incredibly slick. And I did slip at least once, landing on my right thigh, smashing my camera that was in my thigh pocket. So much for the camera image screen — now badly cracked (camera still works).

A foot plank along the Long Trail, Vermont. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Made my way to Route 9 — the highway to Bennington — the bridge across the Walloomsac River. I was just making my way up the first “staircase” when a local man out for his evening walk came up behind me and said that a week ago the stream at MN shelter was dry — he encouraged me to get water at the river. Forty-five minutes later….. I had gotten water AND left a note at the bridge sign alerting others of what the man told me. Halfway up the steep steep part — some time later — he was coming back down. “This is the worst of it — you’ve got it Girl!” He also said the water at MN was still quite scarce.

Later, when I got to MN there was water — even a little trickle to it. He must not understand that, as far as I’m concerned, just about any water is good water. As I approached the shelter, a young man looked up and said in a cheerful voice, “Hello Dawn!” It was Justin, my fellow NOBO thru-hiker whom I met on Day One! Such a delightful soul and good, cheerful company.

Melville Nauheim Shelter on the Long Trail. Melville Nauheim Shelter

Dinner done and cleaned up by 7:30 and in bed by 8:00.
And NOW the rain came. It rained and rained and rained all night long.

And cleared up come morning.

If you desire the self, get out of the self.
Leave the shallow stream behind
and flow into the river deep and wide.
Don’t be an ox pulling the wheel of the plow,
turn with the stars that wheel above you.

~ Rumi

A Vermont stream. Melville Nauheim Shelter

NOBO Long Trail Thru-hiker, Dawn Chandler, at the Massachusetts/Vermont border and start of the Long Trail.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog so you catch all my occasional musings. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy these writings, please feel free to share this post with them.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again!

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico