11 September 2015 — Day 3
Solo backpacking the length of Vermont on the Long Trail
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.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur — it was lovely in the sunshine.
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…
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
12 HOURS OF HEAVY RAIN
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~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico