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A northbound walk across Vermont begins with the first footstep upon the trail in Massachusetts.

Well… No… really….that’s not quite right.

Really, it begins a few moments earlier with you and your first friend in life—your friend of 49 years—embracing, choking down anxiety and blinking back tears, one of you expressing intense gratitude, the other, a heartfelt wish:

Fare well.

Though really? It begins two days earlier, with a flight across the country, set off with an even more intense scene of embrace, anxiety, gratitude and a heartfelt wish:

Fare well.

Actually, it begins four days earlier, with the final laying out of gear, the last minute removal of items from your pack and placing them back again. The swapping out of books, the exchange of shirts, the addition of another pair of socks.

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Well, really… It begins six days earlier with you suddenly deciding that your super-comfy sleeping pad is simply too heavy and you rush to the local REI where you used to work, pick the brains of some of your savvy campy friends and buy a newer new pad that’s half the weight of your other new pad.

A northbound walk across Vermont begins a week before, with the tables in your art studio being buried under mountains of plastic-wrapped energy bars, tubes of nut butters, zip-lock bags of oatmeal and quinoa and chia seeds and powdered coconut milk and New Mexico beef jerky and instant miso soup and pounds of GORP and stacks of metallic-bagged freeze-dried dinners. It begins with you packing up all of that into boxes and shipping them off to places you’ve never been, never heard of, hoping they’ll be there when you run out of food.

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TaosDawn's food drops ready to be shipped off for her walk across Vermont's Long Trail

It begins twelve days earlier with you preheating your oven, dipping your fingers in a jar of beeswaxy goo, inhaling a smell you haven’t smelled 20+ years and applying layers of SnoSeal to your oven-warmed leather hiking boots.

It begins six weeks earlier with you hankering down with map, guidebook, emails, scribbled notes, your laptop and an TaosDawn_Itinerary_pxXcel spreadsheet to plot out and decide finally on a day-by-day itinerary.

It begins all summer long with a heavily weighted pack and you and your dog hiking each morning across the mountains above Santa Fe. It begins with you pausing for awhile beneath the aspens to paint a little, write a little and make tea if only to test over and over your nifty little stove and your new whiz-bang space-aged collapsible kettle.

A Long Trail walk across Vermont begins two months earlier with a week-long test hike in northern New Mexico with a crew of 14 new old Sole Sisters. It begins with the testing of your sweet new down sleeping bag, and that first new sleeping pad, but mostly with the testing of your 50-year-old knees.

It begins four months earlier in a Taos coffee shop with a map of The Long Trail spread between you and an inspiring young trail veteran, your pen hardly able to keep up as she shares information and insight and memories of her hike along the trail.

It begins five months earlier with the testing of your new internal frame pack in the depths of Utah’s canyon country with good and patient friends.

It begins six months earlier with you tacking up on your kitchen wall Vermont’s Long Trail Map, a brown dashed line of trail meandering its length and a growing collection of post-it notes.

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It begins seven months earlier with the commitment from your first friend in life—your friend of 49 years—in managing the travel logistics of getting to and from the trail. It begins with her offer—her insistence—to help.

It begins nine months earlier with writing in ink on your calendar the start and end dates of your hike.

It begins ten months earlier with a barrage of helpful and generous messages from a dozen Long Trail Mentors, in response to your request for tips and insight.

It begins a year earlier, with the commitment from your Good Man to look after your dog while you are away.

It begins two-and-a-half years earlier with the enthusiastic response from your Good Man when you tell him of your desire to solo hike the Long Trail; it begins with his complete understanding when you tell him:

I need to do this alone.

It begins two-and-a-half-years + a day before, when you fall victim to that dangerous equation of a winter day + a warm Taos cafe + a pot of good tea + a laptop + a strong internet connection + your 50th birthday looming + the desire for something big + a memory of a long ago dream. It begins with you falling down the rabbit hole of web trickery and suddenly buying memberships for yourself for the GMC, the ATC and the AMC  plus copies of Vermont’s Long Trail Map, Long Trail Guide, The End-To-Ender’s Guide, a copy of A Century in the Mountains: Celebrating Vermont’s Long Trail and a poster of The Long Trail, which you promptly hang on a wall in your bedroom.

A northbound walk across Vermont begins 24 years earlier when you meet a young artist who hiked the Appalachian Trail and she tells you of a beautiful section of it called The Long Trail.

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A hike across Vermont begins on a late December day in central New Jersey in 1964.

 

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Read more about my journey:

Installment 01: my walk across vermont

Installment 03: where a walk across vermont ends

Installment 04: falling, gratitude, and why I want to return to the trail