Sunday, July 22, 2012

Conquering the Vermonster

This week has been a bit of a challenge. Physically, there have been some bigger climbs and steeper descents, but none compared to the mental challenges. I knew entering Vermont was a huge victory, but deep down I was kinda bummed. That meant the hike was starting to wrap up. I am normally never a "glass half empty" guy, but it just hit me hard earlier this week. I have fallen in love with this lifestyle, if you can call it that. If only there was a way to be paid while I was doing this, it would be perfect!

Vermont has mesmerized me, much like the Smoky Mountains have. The endless mountain ranges I have seen from up top of some of these mountains have literally taken my breath away. It has been such a welcoming change from the green tunnel. And do you want to know the even cooler part? I haven't even hit the Whites yet! It's only going to get better! That has definitely changed my attitude from being sad the hike is almost over to getting excited because the best is yet to come.

This week has also given me the chance to meet a lot of SOBO's (south bound hikers) along with a few NOBO's (north bounders) I hadn't met yet. I also got to meet a super awesome family that are hiking part of the Long Trail. Their energy and excitement have also helped this week get so much better! So here is the rundown of this rollercoaster of a week.

Day 126 (7/15) - North Adams, MA to Seth Warner Shelter (6.9 mi)
I should have taken the day off. I was still very exhausted from the miles I did yesterday. The motivation to hike on was completely gone. I should be excited- I was entering Vermont today, but I just wasn't. After eating a late breakfast and topping that off with an early lunch, Tom drove me back to North Adams to continue my journey north bound. It was a gradual climb leaving the town and crossing state lines. The speed I was going made it very doubtful that I would make it to my destination. And then to add to this overly joyous day, this wet liquid began falling from the sky. I couldn't believe it. Rain! That was all the reason I needed to make it a short day. Unfortunately, the shelter was full of weekend hikers so I had to set my tent up. The rain refused to let up, which just meant that I can go to bed early and recover more from yesterday. Tomorrow is a new day and hopefully my attitude will be better.

Day 127 (7/16) - Seth Warner Shelter to Bennington, VT (11.5 mi)
12 hours of sleep does a body and attitude good. It did rain all night long which made my tent absolutely soaked and I hate packing up a wet tent. After letting my tent dry a bit and breakfast, I finally got started on the trail around 9. There was a lot more uphill and I was handling it better than yesterday. As I was leaving from my lunch break, Sanhican rolled in and we started hiking together. He needed to go into town to put some of his food weight in a bounce box and he was going to get a room. I decided I could use a hotel break for a mental break to help me tackle this tougher section so I joined him. It was a good call since it started pouring down rain in the mountains.

Day 128 (7/17) - Bennington, VT to Kid Gore Shelter (14.5 mi)
I didn't think we would ever leave the hotel today, which I wasn't completely opposed to. We let the hotel do our laundry and apparently their dryer didn't work. So we were hanging all of our stuff by the ac unit to try to dry. When we finally did get on the trail, it was all up. But Sanhican and I tried to stay positive and we took the hike in stride. We kept a great pace and had great conversation throughout, which helped the time fly by. We finally got some awesome views of the mountains and got to watch some cool heat lightening off in the distance. It was a much needed good day. It was also the first day we met Mercury Man, his wife Penny, and their daughters Varsity an Lioness. They are hiking the southern end of the Long Trail (which goes from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian Border and the AT is the same trail for a little over 100 miles). They are an incredible family who all love the outdoors and everything it has to offer. We will flip flop with them all week.

Day 129 (7/18) - Kid Gore Shelter to William B. Douglas Shelter (19.9 mi)
With a huge thunderstorm last night, it was smart we stayed in a shelter. We were able to hit the trail rolling this morning. Our biggest challenge of the day was Stratton Mountain. At almost 4000 feet in elevation, it's the highest point I have been for a long time on the trail. I climbed the fire tower on top and took in 360 degree views of mountains on top of mountains, including two ski slope mountains. I can see why Benton McKay would dream up the concept for the Appalachian Trail from up there. Sanhican and I spent a little over an hour taking in the view. It was the perfect opportunity to let our sweaty clothes dry. From the top of Stratton, it was a quick down hill and then a nice, fairly level trail. Darkness was sneaking up, so we had to haul tail on the last 5 miles. I was definitely worn out when we finally arrived to the shelter. There is a small chance of rain tonight, but we are mainly sleeping in the shelter to help us get an early jump into Manchester Center tomorrow for resupply and to hopefully get my worn out shoes switched out.

Day 130 (7/19) - William B. Douglas Shelter to Bromley Mountain Ski Patrol Lodge (8.8 mi)
We hauled tail to get into town this morning with the hope of breakfast. Once in Manchester Center, we hit up McDonalds at the perfect time- the end of breakfast and the beginning of lunch. So I had both! We then headed to the outfitter and then to the grocery store. After a quick hitch out of town, we got to the trail head and ran back into Beeker and Fievel. We all started the summit up Bromley Mountain, which surprisingly is a ski mountain. Part of the trail was actually up one of the ski trails. On top, we had 360 degree views of all the mountains around. There was also a chair lift and a ski patrol cabin, which happened to be unlocked. With the promise of an incredible sunset and sunrise, we all decided to stay up here. So now I can say I have stayed on top of a ski mountain!

Day 131 (7/20) - Bromley Mountain Ski Patrol Lodge to Little Rock Pond (16.8 mi)
So after the second morning of sub 50 degree weather, the temps today only topped off at 75. It was perfect hiking weather. Plus my body was processing all that McDonalds I ate yesterday so I was a ball of energy. I was flying through the trail until I landed at Little Rock Pond. Beaker, Honest Abe, Chicken Little, Scrabble, Sanhican, and I created a tent city, setting up our tents wherever we could fit them in the small space next to the pond and Fievel had her hammock up. On a different note, even living in the woods, I occasionally have access to news or Facebook whenever cell signal allows it. Today I was saddened to hear the news of the Colorado shooting and also the passing of a good friend's dad. My prayers go out to all those families for their losses.

Day 132 (7/21) - Little Rock Pond to Rutland, VT (17.6 mi)
Today followed the theme of the last few days- I planned on hiking more miles than I actually did. The first seven miles were unbelievably gorgeous with some great views, mostly downhill terrain, and White Rocks. White Rocks was one of the most incredible things I saw. First, you come up on this huge cairn garden. There were at least fifty different cairns built all along the side path that led to incredible views of the valley. After stopping to build a cairn myself, I got to a road crossing where Penny took my pack and I slack packed with Mercury Man and their two daughters. It was a nice break as we had to climb up a mountain, get a cool view of the Rutland Airport, then descend again. Once I hit the bottom, Fievel and Beaker were trying to figure out how to go on into Rutland tonight instead of waiting until Monday like we planned. We came up with a plan solely based on watching The Dark Knight Rises and we made it happen. The crazy thing about planning out here on the trail is that sometimes it's good to throw it out the window and just enjoy what the trail offers you! I still got my hundred miles in for the week so all is well!

Day 133 (7/22) - Rutland, VT to US4 (18.4 mi)
After we figured out the logistics over breakfast, we got a ride to US4 and slack packed back to Rutland. All of us have errands to run tomorrow (I have to pick up my third pair of shoes). The highlight of the day was climbing Killington Mountain. It was pretty steep and a butt kicking climb, but once we got to the top it was totally worth it. There were some more incredible views. There was also a side trail that took us around the mountain to where all the ski slopes are. We checked those out and enjoyed even more views and then the coolest thing ever- a free gondola ride! The mountain is a mountain bike course in the summer and it was full of people riding down, so they keep the gondola running to facilitate that and they also allow hikers to ride down and back up free of charge. We checked out the bottom of the mountain, ate our lunches, and rode back up. Hiking down, we did have some challenges as parts of the mountain were still pretty messed up from Hurricane Irene, even to the point of the trail being detoured to about 3 miles of road walking. Once we finally got done, we hitched a ride back into Rutland, and enjoyed the little trail luxury I like to call a shower!


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