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Long Journey Home: A Long Trail Journal

...for the body is one and has many members.

 

Deciding

The decision is made, despite doubting its wisdom. I am going to hike the Long Trail. Why shouldn't I hike the Long Trail? Aside from the fact that my first backpacking trip was last summer. Aside from the fact that I only made one long trip last summer, and that nearly destroyed my knees. Aside from the fact that I have a terrible pain in my groin that may or may not be a hernia. Aside from the now constant headache I am enduring - a problem I have never had before in my life. Aside from this, there is no reason.

I can not spend the summer working at a job I hate, and living in this stupid little six by twelve trailer. Maybe If I start slowly I can build up my strength. Maybe the strengthening of my body will strengthen my spirit too.

Last year I took my first overnight hike alone in the Lye Brook Wilderness . I felt compelled then to go to the wilderness and fast and be transformed, like Jesus in the desert. I was lonely and confused. Lacking much equipment, I put a loaf of bread and a gallon of water in a knapsack; I tied rope around my tent and sleeping bag and attached the rope to my belt; I set off into the Wilderness, not following any trail.

I reached a mountain top and pitched my tent moments before it became too dark to see. I intended to stay there until Sunday afternoon, sitting still, unmoved by whatever demons might assault me, hoping to find a firm foundation within myself on which to build a new life, one less lonely. But I couldn't sit still. I got bored and moved on. I hiked all day Saturday, descending finally through a series of spectacular waterfalls in a state of exhausted ecstasy. And I was all too happy to return to Manchester and see people and eat pizza. So much for enduring the ravages of solitude.

That was in the early spring, when snow and ice still clung to the shadowed swales. Late in the summer I bought a proper pack and began to explore the area around Stratton pond. I hiked 22 miles over Labor Day weekend, and practically had to crawl back along the Stratton Pond Trail, my knees were so sore. I used two sticks as crutches and hobbled my way over the six miles back to the car. I only managed one other hike, a trip to Spruce Peak Shelter from Rt. 11. That trip was ruined by my two fellow shelter guests. They were loud. They shoved all of my dinner things aside and took over the whole table. He smoked, and got huffy when I asked him to smoke outside. It was hell for me.

That is the full extent of my backpacking experience. Overall I can not say that backpacking has treated my kindly. And yet...

Preparations

I have planned my approach to the Trail. Out of respect for my knees and groin, I will start slowly and see how my body feels about it. My intent is to start in the south, divide the Trail into ever larger sections and cover each in sequence.

My first hike of this year, and the first trial hike of this project, will cover a total of only 6.2 miles. I will drive my car along what the Guide Book of the Long Trail calls "County Road" and hike from the road to the Massachusetts/Vermont Border. I will have lunch there, then return to the car, a flat 3.1 miles each way. I will carry a full pack, just to see how it feels.

Assuming all goes well in the first trial, the following weekend I will cover the next section, from County Road to Route 9. I will park at Route 9, hike the 11 or so miles to Seth Warner Shelter, spend the night, and hike back to the car the next day. If that works, then I will have arrived at my time of leave from work and be ready for the final trial run, a four day hike from Route 9 to Route 30 near Manchester. If that goes well, I will be ready to start north. I will mail food and other supplies to a couple of places near the trail, and at some point I will have to leave the trail and find some fuel for my stove. Other than that, I hope to go without stopping to the Canadian border. That is the plan. What the reality will be, I do not know.

"County Road" to Massachusetts/Vermont border and back

I bounce along this rutted road, deep into the woods. It feels wrong, to arrive at this place in a car. I feel like a trespasser. What would a hiker think, to emerge from the woods after long hours on foot and hear the pop of my VW engine and smell the exhaust? I feel like a cheater.

Just over an hour of hiking and I reach Massachusetts. This is the southern most point on the Long Trail. The trail continues south, but in its identity as the Appalachian Trail. At the border point there is a large rock, on which I sit to eat my lunch, peruse the logbook that lives in a box on a tree, and rest my bones.

One hour of hiking, three miles, and I am tired and sore. My hips and shoulders are red where the pack is strapped to my body. It is wonderful relief to take it off. It is wonderful too, to stop and look around and listen to the forest sounds. Although this stretch of trail is fairly flat, the footing is a little difficult for me, and trees cross the path at intervals. I find I must keep my eye on the trail or stumble constantly. I only see and hear what is around me when I stop.

Someone has written in the logbook, "Long Trail Heroes! I'm doing 33 miles a day, can you beat that?"

What's the point? If I feel I am missing the landscape at my plodding pace, how much is he missing? I want to appreciate and learn from the land I am walking over, not just log miles. Yet his challenge goads me. I feel inadequate by comparison. I want to prove my worth. The hole of loneliness opens again. I eat my lunch, quickly because the black flies have found me, and I mount the pack on those same sore places, and I trudge northward again.

I stop twice on the return trip to stand in the middle of a rising mist of moths. They lie in perfect, muddy puddles on the trail. Then I step into the midst of them and they rise, as if evaporated by the heat of my body. Up and around me, finally dispersing about my head. I move on, and the moths condense and settle back onto the path.

With relief I arrive at the car, not sorry now to have driven it into the forest. It is eleven or so miles north to the next major road. The red sores on my hips and shoulders are beginning to turn to purple. I am exhausted and discouraged. I am weak and unprepared. If I am here to prove my worth, right now I feel worthless. What are six miles compared to thirty-three? What will She think if I quit before I start?

Route 9 to Seth Warner Shelter

The day is light grey and cool. Perfect weather for hiking. I have left my tent behind after last weekend's toil, and the hike ahead of me today is fairly flat after an initial, rapid 740 foot climb in only about half a trail mile. What will it be like to hike 11 miles, when only last weekend I was exhausted by 6?

About an hour into the hike, the sky darkens. And darkens. And darkens more. Noon turns to near night. I barely have time to cover my pack with a plastic garbage bag when the rain falls, and hard. I think I am close to Congdon Camp, but I run through the rain for twenty minutes or more before I reach it, and by then I am thoroughly soaked.

I arrive at Congdon Camp to find others sheltering from the sudden storm: A furniture refinisher from Keene whose boots fell apart on Stratton Mountain, so he is now hiking in soaked sneakers, and two young men hiking the Appalachian Trail from south to north. The storm turned the trail into a river, so even my hefty leather boots are waterlogged.

Seth Warner

I am greeted at the shelter by a noisy mob: A boy scout troop from Essex Junction, the furniture refinisher, a Long Trail through-hiker from Atlanta, and another eight or so in tents. I am trying to write about the day, but I canít concentrate. The boy scouts are shouting and running around. People are asking me questions. There is so much from the day I want to capture - But I canít recall the memories in all this commotion. This is wilderness solitude? What am I doing here?

Harmon Hill

I have found a pleasant, breezy spot among the yellow and red Devilís Paintbrush (what I have always called, apparently incorrectly, Indian Paintbrush). I am enjoying this moment of quiet and rest in the warm sun, something I have seen little of since I set out from Route 9 about 24 hours and 22 miles ago. I am concerned about continuing this trip considering the horrors of last night.

I left Seth Warner shelter at 5:00 this morning, about the earliest that there was light enough to see the trail. I simply had to escape. When the sun appeared on the horizon, around 6:00, the forest became translucent, patches of light here and there shining through leaves, spotlighting ferns and saplings, drawing my attention from one to another. After yesterdayís rain and last nightís difficulties, the new day is a welcome relief.

The first sign of difficulty was when I could not concentrate on my journal. I felt I was losing the day. I didnít write about the plank walkways that weave through a canyon of pines, about the chance they offer to establish a stretching stride after miles of careful stepping, about the feeling of going somewhere special. I was not able to return my thoughts to Stamford Brook, to recall how the trail follows the brook for awhile bringing a feeling of companionship, how leaving the brook left me feeling lonely.

All of this was scattered by talk and argument over who would sleep where and who was on dish washing duty and who was the best hiker.

8 oíclock was lights out for the scouts. For the first time since I had arrived there was a measurable quiet. We could hear the birds twittering and the wind brushing the leaves and some ground animal disturbing the underbrush.

"This is what it is all about," said one of the scout leaders. "Actually," he amended as some tenters started shouting, "Itís quieter on my front porch."

We lay side by side on the lean-to floor, feet to the outdoors. On my right, the youngest scout fell asleep quickly, and soon began to murmur and whimper. On my left, the refinisher smoked to relax. He lay down and squirmed in his bag for twenty minutes, then sat up again for another cigarette. After repeating this cycle several times, he finally feel asleep and immediately began to snore long, resonant snores.

I moved around so my head was between feet rather than between whimpers and snores. I found a position in which I could stick a finger in my upper ear, and fell into fitful sleep.

A kick in the head woke me up again. The refinisher had stopped snoring and resumed squirming. I suspected he would be up for a smoke soon. I was right. As I despaired of sleep I began to panic. I felt trapped and powerless.

"I have to get out of here." I considered whether my flashlight was enough to get me back to the car. I considered whether I would sleep better on the ground in the wet woods, but then the rain resumed.

"If I can just make it through until dawn I can get out, and go home where it is quiet and I can sleep. But Iím exhausted. I have to sleep now! But I canít sleep now. Iím trapped! I did finally sleep, if only from the further exhaustion of my anxiety, and I did escape at first light, and now I am alone and safe and I can rest.

If this is the way it is going to be, I cannot take this trip. I am looking for solitude. I am here to watch the sun rise and set, to listen to the birds sing the morning awake, to observe and reflect, to be filled with peaceful sights and sounds and feelings. Perhaps, I suppose, to fill the emptiness left by Her absence.

An impossible choice: the weight and privacy of a tent or the sleeplessness of crowded shelters. How can I survive this trip?

Route 9, Heading north

Ahead of me lies the longest hike I have ever taken, 39 miles that I expect to cover in 4 days. Behind me lie two miserable trial runs.

There are three people already at Melville Nauheim shelter when I arrive: Liz, Eddie and "Gucci." Eddie is the only "experienced" hiker. As he demonstrates to Gucci how to light a Peak 1 stove, he manages to get fuel all over his hand, which catches fire. Eddie is hopping around the campsite waving his hand and shouting "Ooh, Ooh, we're having a hot time now. We're really cooking now." Later I win a game of spades. Beginner's luck. I quickly feel at home with this curious trio. When morning comes, it is hard to leave them.

Glastonbury Mountain

Glastonbury is shrouded in mist. From the fire tower at the summit I get occasional glimpses of Mt Equinox when the mist clears. Everywhere else seems to be clearing after a grey, misty day, but the mountain is still closed in, isolated. That is how I feel. Far away from friend and familiar. Alone. There is no shelter noise tonight.

On the way down the mountain the next day I pass a group of women hiking south.

The third one stops and says, "Through-hiker?"

"Yes."

"Whatís your name?"

"John."

She pauses a moment, looking lost. "No, your trail name."

"I donít use one."

"Oh." She looks lost again and turns to leave.

"Where are you headed?" I ask to keep the conversation going.

"Rt. 9 for now, but weíre slack packing it to Maine."

I nod in total non-comprehension and let her go.

Grout Pond

On the advice of a note from caretaker Craig Jolly at Story Spring shelter, I leave the Long Trail to spend the night at Grout Pond. All along the access road I am chased by hungry mosquitoes. I cannot even stop to "dope up." The pond itself, however, is free of them. Aside from a solitary fisherman, I am alone here. I set up my tent (I decided to bear the weight for the sake of privacy) at a little-used tent site at the water's edge. The pond is lovely and still. I eat my macaroni and cheese as the sun sets. I am tired and sore. There is no sign of any other human activity, and once again I am overwhelmed by loneliness. That soon passes, and I sit quietly observing the beauty around me as the light fades.

William Douglas Shelter

Stratton Pond being crowded, I continue on to W.B. Douglas, where I am once again alone. Is there no middle ground between crowds and solitude? I miss Liz and Eddie and Gucci.

A rabbit comes bounding out of the brush into the shelter clearing and stops 6 feet in front of me. He gives me a startled, "What the hell are you doing here" look, and bounds away again.

After a mouse and mosquito ridden night I am eager to go home for a few days.

But "civilization" comes as a shock. On the trail I want to be home. At home I want to be on the trail. Around many people I want to be alone. Alone I want company. Is there no end to discontent?

Route 30, Heading north

Back again. I keep coming back. I am feeling a little sad and foolish for leaving my friends during these summer days, but I have been having a hard time of it these past several months, and need to do something to shake up my life a bit. The boredom of routine work, and the incessant nagging of the pain of the past have killed my enjoyment of living, so here I am. I am actually doing it, and intend to continue to do it.

Little Rock Pond

This keeps happening. I was going to hike only as far as Lost Pond shelter today, but reached there at lunch time. I have gained at least a day, which I will spend enjoying this special place. Little Rock Pond remains my favorite place on the trail, so far. I used to hike up the Homer Stone Brook Trail and rest here to escape the stress of working with homeless people in Rutland. I brought Her here on our first date.

I swim, climb Green Mountain and sit on the rocks overlooking the pond. There is no obvious reason why this pond is more attractive than any other. Yet, somehow, it is. Here I am content.

Reflections

Stopping for awhile, thoughts arise.

The religious minded (among which I have included myself) must change their ways. Christianity has fostered a sense of human superiority under the power of a benevolent divinity. Often for the Christian, "God is in control so I don't have to worry."

The Western appropriation of Eastern religion has developed a similar attitude: whatever happens is as it is meant to be. Meanwhile, rapists take what they want from the Earth, and the hungry are robbed of their daily bread.

If any Christian teaching applies, it is Paul's "...the body is one and has many members..." We are happy to let the stomach, our appetites, rule. Or we allow the head with its fancy spiritual ideas to reign. We must wake up soon to the fact that "if one member suffers, all suffer together with it." And thus we all suffer with the loss of the rainforest, the acidification of mountain lakes, the carbonization of the atmosphere, the death of the Great Horned Owl, the bleaching of the night sky. We humans can no longer afford the fantasy that we hold divine right to supremacy.

With the loss of "divine right" comes a certain loneliness, a loss of identity. After grief, a new identity emerges. I take responsibility for my own life, for creating the future, but I am also deeply connected to all that is. There are many sources of energy and inspiration from which I can draw. I am not alone. I am steeped in love. Because I love my home, I will care for it and not exploit it. Because I love life, I will let it be what it is, and protect it from those who would destroy it.

But selfish despite seems to hold sway. And I do not know why, except that life blesses every one, but does not favor any one.

Minerva Hinchey

I am exhausted again. I drag myself up Button Hill, thinking "Thank God I'm almost there. I couldn't take another step if I didn't know the shelter is near. It will feel so good to stop and take off this damned pack and rest my feet."

Then the shelter appears, dark, chewed to bits, smelling of I do not know what. Urine? I sit outside. Now what? In my hierarchy of values, sleeping in a dump is worse than hiking when I am already exhausted. I rise and move on in disbelief. I grab ripe raspberries as I pass them in Spring Lake Clearing. Once, as I near Clarendon Gorge, I consider throwing my pad on the ground and sleeping right where I am, in violation of the Guide's statement that this is private land. I am exhausted! But I continue to Clarendon shelter, stopping to watch the sun go down from a viewing rock. I arrive barely in time to fix supper while there is still light. But I have learned something about my energy reserves, about how much I can do even when I feel "exhausted."

Cooper Lodge

Killington Mountain is wrapped in mist, and I am wrapped in loneliness. I am alone in the shelter, and acutely desiring company, to hear words other than the unspoken words of my own thoughts. There is a gentle rain, birds singing, but I crave a companion, someone across the table to share my meal with and talk about the day.

I donít quite understand it, this aching loneliness. It seems less a condition of the isolation of this place than a condition in me. I have often craved solitude, and when I have found it, have craved companionship. Is solitude no longer a desire for me? Have I had my fill of it? That would be a valuable lesson. I have been very much alone, and found that in solitude there really is no one here but me. No mystical union with ultimate reality. And yet, something is changing. For one thing, I am much more aware of the beauty of simple companionship. For another, I am more aware of the birds and other creatures, and find comfort in their presence. And there is more, something I canít quite put my finger on. Some subtle shift in perspective.

***

Mouse attack! All night long, or so it seems, mice in my pack, mice in my boots, mice in my poncho, mice running over my sleeping bag. A legion of mice, or perhaps only one omnipresent mouse.

A quiet moment. I begin to fall asleep. Then - a rustle near my head. I awake, almost but not quite, fully. I turn the head of my minimaglite. There he is, dazzled by the sudden light (as am I), the Devil in mouse form. He runs around, disoriented. He approaches the light, and I bop him on the head (thus sacrificing my non-violent nature). He runs away. Silence. Then, just as I am falling asleep, we go through it all again.

Finally I awake enough to re-hang my pack farther along the crossbeam with an inverted tin can threaded on the hanging rope. I put all my belongings in the protected pack.

Standing naked on the cold stone floor, alone, high on Killington's western slope, I begin to question my sanity. I begin to think about giving up.

Taking my mind from such dangerous thinking, the mouse reappears. He gets one more bop from the flashlight, and the bulb breaks. It is completely dark, and silent except for the mist dripping off the trees. I stand there listening for a long while.

The morning brings a red squirrel, who is finding a bounty of peanuts on the floor. I suspect, and confirm, that the mouse chewed through my pack and into the trail mix. A large hole in the pack cloth means a trip into Rutland for repair materials. I am oddly happy about this excuse to leave the trail. Apparently the mouse did not interrupt my thoughts soon enough.

Rolston's Rest

I find trees generally unhelpful. I pass hundreds of them every day and not one has offered to carry my pack.

Wolf

At Sunrise shelter, a man arrives wearing a Walkman.

"I'm Wolf," he says. "You heading to Canada?"

"Maybe. I'm thinking of leaving at Middlebury Gap."

"Because you don't see anybody," he says. It is not a question.

"I've stopped enjoying myself."

"You liked the AT alright. You know, your worst enemy out here is your own mind. You stop now and you'll let the trail defeat you. You have to defeat the trail."

I respond, warily, "I'm not competing with the trail. I'm here to enjoy myself. If I'm not enjoying myself, why bother?"

"If you beat the trail, just think what you could do. You'll have done it. You can't let your mind beat you."

"I'm not in competition with my mind either. I'm here to enjoy being here. If I'm not enjoying it, I should stop."

"What is it, 150 miles? You'll be done in a week. And you'll have won. If you do this, you'll be able to do anything."

But I don't wear a Walkman.

Strangely, my encounter with "Wolf" has shifted my attitude for the better. I was beginning to get into the grind of "Just get it done." Now Wolf has shown me the stupidity of that approach, and I am content again being where I am, moving when I move, and leaving when I am ready to leave.

I am tired. I am ready again for the companionship of my friends. I will leave at Middlebury Gap. When will I return? I donít know.

Once again, "civilization" is not all I remembered it to be. A week later I return to Middlebury Gap, well rested and clear that ten miles makes a perfect day of hiking for me, and that more than that wipes me out. I am learning that most of the loneliness and frustration is simply fatigue.

Mt Ellen

Here in the Green Mountain National Forest, they are blasting and chiseling and digging into the mountain for the enjoyment of skiers and the profit of the Sugarbush shareholders.

After a long day of hiking from Cooley Glen, and a discouraging, ski area dominated hike along the Lincoln ridge, I arrive at Mt Ellen, elevation 4083ft. At Cutts Peak, just before Mt Ellen, I was annoyed by the constant sound of a helicopter somewhere nearby. When I arrive at Mt Ellen, I can still hear the helicopter, but otherwise it is quiet. I begin to remove my pack to look at the view when the air is torn by the sound of a jack hammer. Moving only a few feet north of the summit, I come out of the trees and am confronted by heavy earth-moving machinery, bulldozers, dump trucks, jack hammers.

I want to scream in agony. After one hundred and fifty miles of low-impact camping, of barely crushing a leaf, of protecting streams from soap and supper wastes, of honoring the quiet; at Mt. Ellen, the third highest peak in the state, I face noise and mounds of debris wrenched from the mountain of which it has been a part for hundreds of thousands of years. Of what use are my efforts at conservation in the face of this destruction?

Cowles Cove

A rainbow has appeared in the southeast. The birds are singing the day's end.

Backpacking is not all fun for me. I worry about falling and hurting myself, out here alone. I get tired and sore and lonely. I am so supercharged at the end of the day that I can't get to sleep, and the confines of a sleeping bag accentuate the stiffness in my muscles.

But there are rainbows and hailstorms, and mountain brooks cutting deep channels in the rock, and there are the shelters. It has taken me awhile to learn how to turn an empty shelter into a home for a night, just as it is taking time to learn how to turn strangers into friends for a night. I am learning how to be at home wherever I am, alone, with others, in familiar surroundings or in new. I am feeling more solid.

Wolf II

I pass Wolf about 2 miles north of Buchanan shelter. He's been sick for several days. "Puking my guts out," he says. His boots fell apart, so he is hiking in Reebox shoes, hoping to buy boots in Hanover. He says he's glad to see me back on the trail. He's discouraged at how few through-hikers he has met. Indeed, I have been alone almost every night, even on Camel's Hump (except for the caretakers). "I've been in Vermont too long," says Wolf. I am glad to be finding my own way of hiking. I have been in Vermont most of my life, and am just beginning to get to know it.

Mansfield

What is it that makes me jump out of bed at 4:50 AM, dress in a few minutes, and fairly run up 600 feet in half a mile to see the sun rise? As it happens I need not have run as I did. I arrive, hot and breathless, at the summit of the Chin, the highest point in Vermont, at 5:15.

The eastern sky is still only pale pink. The sun does not appear on the horizon until 5:37. I wait. At 5:40 the full disk is above the horizon. Haze lingers, making the disk a deep red. It takes twenty minutes for the sun to climb above the filtering moisture in the air. At 6:00 the Chin, and no other place, is bathed in yellow sunlight. I stand to bask fully in these first rays, and at the same moment become aware that I have been joined by dozens of ravens.

The sky above me is full of them, riding the currents, diving at each other in play, performing barrel roles and stalls. And then they are gone. Gone about the day's business.

I know why the Ravens dance. It is why I climb to high places to see the sun rise. It is why I break old habits of sleeping late: to celebrate the ordinary.

The sun rises every day. In this way it is ordinary and easily taken for granted. But to climb to a high peak in near darkness is not ordinary for this body. The climb, and the hour spent watching the sun rise, and basking in its first light unsettle the ordinariness of this sun rise, make it into something special, reveal its miraculous nature. A ball of burning gas brings light and life to all the Earth. And Ravens dance.

To take the ordinary, even the painful and difficult, and make of them a celebration, to reveal the miraculous within the commonplace. Is there any greater joy? Any deeper liberation? Any more complete revolution? Any finer way to spend the days of one's life?

Whiteface

I consider stopping at Whiteface shelter; it is 4:30 and still 5 miles to French Camp. But I am not too tired, and the map makes it look pretty flat once Whiteface Mt. is over. My last climb of the journey, and a worthy climb at that.

Someone decided not to clear the trail.The ascent of Whiteface is more overgrown than any other section I have seen, except maybe Telephone Gap. It's a nice climb. I enjoy the overgrowth and the steepness. It is short, too. Not too much of a good thing.

At the summit I first look out to the south over the terrain I have covered these past several weeks. then I look to the north, to Belvidere and other peaks I do not attempt to identify. They will have to wait for another trip. My month is over. For now it is farewell to the ridge.

The descent to the valley is fairly steep but manageable. Even so, I am tired by the time I reach the flats at 6:00. The light slants into the forest as the sun drops. I cross streams -- oh yes, streams. I remember streams. Suddenly I am aware of the birds singing, dozens of them, not the few who live on the ridge, and the breeze in the trees. It is like a homecoming, this return to the valley. The ridge is a different, starker world. As a bus driver from Montreal told me on the Mansfield ridge, "A few days of solitude out here - it does something to you. You can't help it. It does something." Returning to what was once familiar, I hear it and feel it as if it were new.

There is a lovely brook here just to the side of the trail. Wandering over to look I discover a small waterfall and a pool at the bottom. Stripping off pack and clothes I climb down and jump into the cool water, receiving just the revitalization I need at this moment.

I set a good pace for the last stretch, which is indeed very flat and enjoyable hiking. Near French Camp the woods open up - no small sapling oaks and maples, no ferns and ground pine and crowding hemlock. Just hardwoods, tall and providing a full canopy. On the ground, large boulders and a solid, foot-high ground cover of some leafy plant I do not know. Only the trail breaks the cover. It is magical, unlike any other section of trail I have covered. I could go on for a long time hiking through this.

But it ends. The trail becomes a road. The road becomes a logging staging area, becomes a developed gravel road. After awhile, I wonder if I missed the camp. I check the Guide . It says the gravel starts north of the camp. I have missed it. I decide not to go back and look, but to continue to Johnson at this late hour and try to find a B&B. Another tenth of a mile or so, and there is French Camp, only a few feet off the road. Apparently things have changed here since 1989.

The shelter is dirty and a little smelly and the roof is rotting, but I am very happy to be able to stop and drop my load and eat my remaining food, knowing that tomorrow I am through.

I am content. I would not mind continuing on from here. I do not mind that I have to go home and return to work. Something has changed in me. I watch the sky darken through the canopy as I eat my macaroni, followed by tea. When did it happen? At what point did I begin to feel so at home?


Barrows Camp

It is hard to believe, but the journey has resumed after two years. I took up my burden at the point where I stopped two years ago, where Route 15 crosses the Lamoille River. The hike was easy and damp, the view from Prospect Rock obscured by mist.

Corliss Camp

Something is wrong. I'm enjoying myself! Where is the trail angst I remember from two years ago? Perhaps it is that I am taking my time and not getting over-tired. I know my limits better.

As the temperature drops, I am glad to have a good stove for warmth. This is an excellent shelter, on a par with Skyline Lodge, except lacking a view.

Belvidere

Only a few tenths of a mile up Belvidere Mountain, I run out of energy. I had intended to stay at Ritterbush, keeping each day below 10 miles. But I arrived there at noon and still felt energetic. I should have known better. It takes all my resolve to gather my reserves and continue upward, one step at a time. To fend off the debilitating effect of disappointed expectations, every time the trail levels out I think to myself, "You're not there yet. You still have lots of climbing to do." Then when I do reach the Saddle, I am pleasantly surprised.

From the summit I can see as far south as Mt. Abraham, the ski trails of Sugarbush clearly visible. Lincoln Gap seems too far in the past to be visible from here, yet looking at this long stretch that I have walked over, I feel as if I never left the trail.

Jay Peak

Since Hazen's Notch, I have not seen a thing, all view covered in mist and rain. Jay Peak is cold and wet and windy. As I climb the bare rocks near the summit, the mist suddenly parts and the valley to the east is revealed for an instant. The sun shines in small pools far below. I can see a hint of Lake Memphramagog. It is beautiful, and sends me into ecstatic reverie. The next moment the mist blows in from behind me and I cannot see beyond the reach of my hand. The tram is closed. I am alone on the summit, as I have been every night of this final trip. It is too cold to stay.

Laura Woodward

It is nice to be back in a lean-to. The camps are nice, but they block the sights and sounds of the forest. I share the shelter with four others, two local men and a couple from Boston. Around the campfire, I am asked what my favorite place is on the trail. Without thinking why, I easily respond, Little Rock Pond. Then I add, Camel's Hump. Camel's Hump because it is the only peak over 4000 feet that is undeveloped. The next highest undeveloped peak is Breadloaf. Little Rock Pond because... I'm not sure. All of my associations with it are peaceful and pleasurable.

It feels odd to be in the position of trail expert, to be full of stories to share. I remember being on the other end at Peru Peak shelter, where several experienced hikers were staying. What strikes me most is how I enjoy telling these stories. I speak as I would of my beloved.

Canada

In pouring rain, soaked to the bone, I stand in Canada. It is done. There is nothing to see. No register to sign. No way to mark the end. It is too wet to stay long. I will be returning to do again the twenty miles from Hazen's Notch to the border, when the weather is clear and I can enjoy the views. Perhaps then I will bring a bottle of wine and celebrate properly.

I pass a couple who have finished the trail after 21 years. They are also disappointed that there is no register at the end, no way to say "We made it!" It just goes to show. Making it to the end never was the point. Being on the trail, learning from the mountains and the animals and the sun and all of this portion of creation is the point. So it is with life.

As this journey ends, many others begin. I feel more keenly than ever the urgency of preserving the Earth's abundance and beauty. The hard journey still lies ahead; the journey of understanding why humans destroy what supports them; the journey of creating a sane way of living; the journey of coming home to love. The Long Trail has helped me along this journey. It is up to me to continue.


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