Day 48: Long Days
The spot I stumbled on last night turned out to be perfect. So perfect, warm, and comfortable that I didn't get started until 7:30am, despite waking up hours earlier.
Still, I anticipated an opportunity for big miles with the earlier start today. I was closer to Baker Peak than I realized, hitting my first peak and view of the day in the first half mile. Pretty cool. In short order, I crossed over two other peaks and headed for Bromley Mountain, which was a ski slope, as has been the case with most large mountains in Vermont.
Bromley Summit was fairly wide open allowing good views and, unique to the other summits I've traversed so far, covered in grass. I ate my lunch and then took a short nap. I'm making good miles, but the last two days I have done a much better job taking scenic breaks and pacing myself.
After Bromley, it was a smooth descent and some fast trail. Now, I'm still not back to running yet, but I'm putting in some long hours and at least moving better than two miles per hour including breaks. Not great, but good enough for now.
Of note, I put my trekking poles up almost first thing this morning. Unfortunately, I can't figure out a stable position to hook them on my pack so they have turned into hand weights. They were great on some of the more challenging terrain, but seem to slow me down more than assist on the better terrain. However, my shoulders are much sorer today and I wonder if that is due to not having the pack weight distributed through the trekking poles, too. Worth monitoring over the next couple days.
The afternoon and evening flew by. I had this radical idea at 4pm after looking at rain in the forecast tomorrow afternoon and all night long that I could just walk overnight and knock out bigger miles. Maybe even get to town before the rain advanced too much. As I was thinking this, my eyelids were already getting droopy. While eating dinner a few hours later, I decided it wasn't happening. I would stop at the next shelter making for a 24 mile day, a new long for this trip, and more sound distance considering my legs are still trashed. I think on my ultra endurance and the ability to go all night long in Vol State and other races, but the energy is just not there. Besides, night on the trails, or in today's case, going up and down a near 4000' mountain, is a lot different than a night on a track or roads. The latter options, I can sleep walk/run. On the trails, I'd be reliant on my weak headlamp. I'd probably walk straight into a bear and get eaten. Or walk off a mountain and die. Then get eaten by a bear. Patience.
Speaking of that headlamp, I walked into darkness again for the second straight night, and almost couldn't find the shelter. There were trails splitting all over the place and I initially took the wrong one. Bonus miles. Ugh.
I finally found the shelter and part of the problem was that I expected lights or noise, but it was totally empty. The shelter was supposed to have a fee per the guide, but there was no one here and no one to collect. The shelter is the biggest I've stayed in yet with a large number of single and double bunks. As for me, I'm staying on the second floor barn style and am all spread out. I won't make Bennington tomorrow, but I'll try to get in some good miles prior to the rain becoming too heavy and decide on Friday whether it will be a quick resupply run or an overnight. Depends on tomorrow's mileage.
Day 49: Unexpectedly Productive
Last night, I figured my day would be curtailed early due to weather. It was cold when I woke up and the shelter was shielding enough light that it was easy to lay there until 7:30. Then I heard someone going back and forth to the shelter beneath me. I was worried about having to pay a fee, but it just ended up being another hiker. He heard me stirring above him and we spent a good 15 minutes talking through the floor as I ate breakfast and got my stuff together.
When I started hiking, my mood and energy was reflective of the dreary weather. My day started up Stratton Mountain and I caught the other hiker just before the summit. We had a good conversation before continuing to the top. He was a section hiker from Jersey, doing his first real hike in over a decade, and was smarter than me as he planned to take the gondola down the ski range. Ironically, he was complaining of his sore knees after four days. I told him that was par for the course.
Stratton Mountain was supposedly the place of inspiration for Vermont's Long Trail in 1909. The Long Trail ranges about 275 miles. The same mountain was Benton McCaye's place of inspiration for the Appalachian Trail in the 1920s. Unfortunately, there were no views, even from the fire tower, as the sky was filled with clouds.
Thinking on Benton McKaye, I'd love to punch him in the nose. Then get him a beer.
The descent was more drudgery. Noon and I had around six miles to show for it. Then monitoring the weather using the LATS method (looking at the sky), the sun came out and blue skies were chasing the clouds away. Either the weather changed in the last day or I moved far enough south to avoid it; either way, good for me!
My pace slowly started to pick up. I stopped 10 miles into the day at a shelter to talk to a NOBO and SOBO. Suddenly, instead of a 15 mile day, 20 seemed achievable.
I made good time to the next shelter and enjoyed a great view while eating another snack and talking to Iron Heart, a section hiker that said he had previously completed the triple crown of hiking (AT, PCT, CDT) and was working on his fourth iteration or fourth section of the AT this time? Regardless, nice guy and he changed his trail name to Iron Heart after getting a Pace maker last year. He had some good information to share.
I mentioned wanting to stay in town tomorrow and he mentioned Labor Day weekend. Figuring I should probably find out now whether I could get a room I called what appeared to be a small motel and they had an automated message. I had to hit "0" for reservations. So, I hit zero. Someone picked up. At first I thought it was a woman and responded with ma'am. It turned out to be a dude. I asked about the hiker rate and asked if he had a room. He said oh yeah and I asked if he needed a name or anything. Nope, he just asked what time I'd be in tomorrow. Weird. I hope someone else doesn't show up and take my room.
Then I continued hiking. I had 2.5 hours to make four miles to the fire tower. Unfortunately, I kept was has been my standard pace the last few days and made it up the mountain to the fire tower in less than two hours. I went up this tower that had 1926 engraved in its foundation and said no more than four people at one time. I felt like one out of four was too much. I got to the top of the tower and my sweat was freezing in the heavy winds as the tower swayed ever so slightly. 30 minutes to sunset? Nope, not happening. Did I mention I'm terrified of heights? I think I lasted three minutes.
Then I continued to my shelter for the night. I'm sharing my shelter with a college orientation group from Williams College. Interesting. I did try to use their fire for warmth for a little bit. But, I'm seeing a lot of warm breath in the cold air. I hope I don't freeze before morning!
Day 50: Recovery
It was cold last night. Talking to folks this morning, it was in the upper 30s and I was near 4000' in elevation, too. The college kids were up early as well as the Hiker formerly known as Pat who arrived well after dark and is hiking from Key West to New Brunswick, about 4500 miles and he started last October 1! While awake this morning, I was the last to stir and the first gone as I was dressed and packed in 10 minutes or less.
In the cold, I had the epiphany that I could just start hiking and eat later once I warm up. I mean, I knew that, but this was the first time that I actually realized -I- could do that. Yes, strange realization. And it was cold. I was freezing. This was one of the few mornings I started my hike with my sleeves unrolled, a windbreaker, and beanie. I did eventually drop the windbreaker and went back-and-forth on the beanie, but the sleeves never got rolled up. It was cold and tonight was supposed to drop near freezing.
Adding to the cold, I had my trekking poles which were like two frozen metal rods in my bare hands. In hindsight, I should've pulled my gloves out prior to starting movement, but now I was committed. I wasn't stopping to pull my pack apart to grab gloves. So, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. After 30 minutes of torture, I had a moment of clarity. I could snuggly strap my trekking poles atop my pack directly on top of my sleeping pad. Perfect. Funny how it took that discomfort to find an answer to that multi-day problem. I always think clearer under pressure.
As for my hands, they were more comfortable but I never did regain full feeling until I checked into my hotel room.
Starting at 6:30, it was an easy stroll of 10 miles to the road. Along the way, I met Old Moose and One Step, an older couple as Old Moose was doing a small section of the Long Trail and still has about 80 more miles to go. They were from Maine and help maintain the AT near the southern border area. Coincidentally, their daughter had thru-hiked the AT and is currently finishing the Long Trail. As a family, they track their annual miles, elevation gain, summits, and support. They said if I was still at the parking lot when I got there, they'd give me a ride to Bennington.
Knowing I had a ride, I slowed my pace even more, strolling with my hands in my pockets. Yet, I still managed to find a root and faceplant. Damn! They actually reached the parking lot only about five minutes after I did. Not only did they give me a ride, but they also gave me a cinnamon powdered donut in their car from their hotel breakfast. My favorite!
After 10 miles and 72 miles over the last four days (averaging 18 per), I checked into a hotel. I didn't realize at the time, but it is the first time I have had a room AND a bathroom to myself since prior to my hike. It was fantastic.
I took a stroll through Bennington, a town full of history including an old high school building that was built in 1913 and had separate Boys and Girls entrances. It was on sale...and structurally unsafe...but an awesome building, nonetheless.
I got Chinese food and my fortune said "The greatest danger could be your stupidity." That's fitting for me with my still swollen knee and propensity towards insanity. I resupplied at Family Dollar including Epsom salts (which were put to good use), and picked up a large pizza from Domino's on the way back to the room. Lots of gluttony. However, despite moving well on the trail the last four days, I immediately returned to hobbling in town and noticeably struggled during my errands. Oh well, back on the trails tomorrow...after the cold night!