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Where does a walk across Vermont end?

I can’t tell you.

But what I can tell you is where it does not end.

It does not end on the first day in the first hour or two or three or four with gnats spinning dully in your eyes and ears TaosDawn_LT_SethWarnerShelter_pxduring the greatest September heatwave New England has seen in 20+ years.

I’m not used to humidity.

It does not end when you arrive at that first dark shelter echoing with silence.

Here I am: Alone.

It does not end that first sleepless night of anxiety about tomorrow’s 70% chance of heavy rain for your 13-mile day.

It does not end in the late afternoon of your second day on the endless stone staircase descent. It does not end when you slip on a moss covered stone, the LED screen of your camera + a thin veil of fabric the only buffer between you and a wall of granite.

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It does not end with the first warning of no water ahead at the night’s shelter.

It does not end on day 4 with the rumor of a strange fellow “off his meds” stealing food and talking morosely at the shelter where you were planning on staying that night.

It does not end when you push-on, though tired, another few miles to find another place to camp.

It does not end that night of the 12-hour rain your tent proving inferior it does not end with your down sleeping bag getting wet it does not end with breaking camp in a downpour it does not end with your first serious ascent and the trail is a rushing stream bed with 4 inches of rain in 4 days it does not end with the threat of hypothermia it does not end with the first twitch of pain in your good knee.

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It does not end with your first prayer to your parents: Help me keep myself safe.

It does not end with that very long very steep wet descent, your knee balking with each downward step.

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It does not end with your first phone call to your Good Man and also to your first friend—your friend of 49 years:

I may have to come in. My knee is killing me . . . .
But I’m not going to decide today. I’ll wait and see how tomorrow goes.

It does not end with you wrapping your father’s red bandanna like a bandage around your knee.

It does not end at Eastern Mountain Sports in Manchester:
Do you have any one-man tents?
No, we sold the last one this morning.
Do you have any two-man tents?
We have one left—it’s a great, light-weight and excellent tent, but you pay for it: $399.

It does not end with you buying a 2-man Big Agnus tent nearly identical to the 2-man Big Agnus tent you already own that you left at home because you decided it was too heavy and instead replaced it at the last minute with an ultralight “tarp tent” which sucked in a 12-hour Vermont downpour and which will now be shipped back to arid New Mexico.

It does not end with ice, ibuprofen, Tiger balm, turmeric, and knee braces.

It does not end with you cautiously limping back to the trail.

Rather, you go another 50 miles, and you feel kind of okay. And you think you’ve got this. You think you’re gonna make TaosDawn_LT_Stairs_02_800_pxit. Your knees aren’t 100%, but they don’t feel too bad.

And then you go another 50 miles.
And the trail gets more rugged.
And you’re tired.
And you’re hiking all day every day.
And there’s little water.
And water is heavy.
And you’re knees are not happy.
And your knees are swollen.

And your knees tell you We’ve had enough.

And with the trail getting harder and your knees aching more, you decide, reluctantly, reluctantly, reluctantly that your knees are more valuable than your pride.

And you decide you will come off the trail in 2 days. And you simply don’t know that the hardest 2 days of hiking you’ve ever known will be in those next 2 days. Those next 24 miles.

Because then your leg buckles.
And you fall.
And your left quadriceps slams something hard.
And now you have 2 bad knees and one good quadriceps and you hurt more than you ever remember hurting.
Ever.

And you’re trying to stay positive, trying to stay bright, but all you can really think is
This is hard. This is so fucking hard.
And you are in fear of how rugged the trail is, and how much more rugged it is rumored to be.

And you climb and you climb and you climb and you’re dreading the descents, because the climbs are painful, but the descents are excruciating.
And you call your first friend and you plead  How much Ibuprofen can I safely take in one day?
Because you’ve already had a lot of Ibuprofen. A lot.
And you call your Good Man and you cry.

A hike across Vermont does not end there because you still have three, four, five more miles of steep terrain and you want to wail but you tell yourself  If that guy could cut off his own hand, I can do this. I can get out of here.

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And that 19th day of your month-long hike with two bad knees and one good quadriceps you somehow walk those last miles.

And on your 19h day of walking across Vermont you come off the trail.

And you feel victorious. You feel glorious.

For you have just done something you’ve never done before:

 

You just hiked 170+ miles of the Long Trail.

 

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Read more about my journey:

Installment 01: my walk across vermont

Installment 02: where a walk across vermont begins

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