Monday August 11 – Sunday August 17. VT9, Bennington – Sherburne Pass Trail. (Mile 1698.9 since Springer Mountain and only 486.4 miles to Katahdin)
Look at that miles to Katahdin figure!! I’m now down to less than 500 miles, albeit those miles are pretty much the hardest of the entire trail. That said, it is certainly encouraging to see that number tick down. There is a saying that once a Northbounder has done 80% of the miles, he has only expended 20% of the effort, so I’m still in for a tough time over the remainder of August and most of September.
Monday was a very quiet day, with very little extended contact with other hikers, though more and more Southbounders are passing by, with warnings and praise in equal measure for New Hampshire and Maine. Additionally, hikers of the Long Trail, a 260 mile hike through Vermont to the Canadian border, are joining the rest of us hobos. There was quite a bit of climbing, with the 3,748ft Glastenbury Mountain the highlight. I met a funny old woman at the top who was all doom and gloom about, well, pretty much everything. It was going to pour with rain before I reached the next shelter (it didn’t), it was going to pour with rain all night (it didn’t) and “hundreds” of people get killed in the White Mountains every year in August (I hope they don’t!).
Leaving her as quickly as possible, I headed down to Kid Gore Shelter, where I hoped to tent, yet the official tent site was about 50 yards further on. Checking that out, I ran into an older guy, section hiking, with his dog. There were no good sites other than the one he had tented on, so I set up camp in front of the shelter and started to prepare dinner. The old guy came to visit with his dog and a flask of scotch “for cocktails,” as he said. I declined, as scotch isn’t my drink, but we had a few laughs and were eventually joined by two young hikers, Chip (one of the young guys who had been treated for rabies) and Denali, who I hadn’t seen for several hundred miles. Denali previously wore a long bird feather in his hair and, amazingly, it was still there. It had been a 14.4 mile day that had also contained my 23rd fall.
It didn’t rain in the night (crazy old woman), so I was able to pack up nice and dry and set off early, expecting to get at least 15 miles in, though hoping for 20. The past 2 days had been rather tough, with the miles harder to complete and I can’t really explain it, other than to say that I’ve got really tired and am worrying a little about hitting the tougher mountains further north. My weight may have dipped again and I may be losing a little strength.
It was really a day of trudging through a very dense forest, with few, if any, incidents or views. The big push of the day was up and over Stratton Mountain, at nearly 4,000 ft. I spoke with Diane prior to this climb and must have sounded a bit fed up, as I was taking a break and about to have some lunch. I had slipped a few times that morning and felt that the climb was going to exhaust any remaining strength that I had. However, once I had spooned about a third of a jar of peanut butter down my gullet, along with a wrap with mayo, sun-dried tomatoes and tuna on it, I was instantly refreshed and got stuck into the climb, making the top in a good pace. This was partly because I was concerned that the rain may be closing in and I wanted to get to my stop for the night sooner rather than later.
I had over 3 miles to go and really started moving on the way down. I had to remain aware of my propensity to fall when hurrying, yet outrunning the rain was a bigger attraction, so I got to Stratton Pond Shelter in just over an hour, with the rain having held off. It was only about 3.30pm at this time, but I decided that my luck was holding and I called it a day.
Luckily, a great group of people accumulated in the shelter that evening. Already there were Mike and Emily, a young couple section hiking in the early stages of their relationship, which seemed to be a bit of a risk though working out well. Later, we were joined by a couple of savvy young female hikers out for a few days, then Yeti Legs, Tumbles and, a little later, Breaktime. We had one of those convivial evenings that make this trail so great and eventually settled down in the shelter to see out the impending storm.
Before settling down, Mike and I went to get water from the advertised spring, trying to follow directions from the two young girls yet, as men do, we got lost, went the wrong way and ended up filling our bottles from Stratton Pond. This was a mistake, as it smelled like sweat and was appropriately warm, which we only discovered on returning to the shelter. Thinking about it, many, many hikers must have swum in that very spot, so we restricted use of the water to cooking. It certainly gave my pasta a certain something.
It rained intermittently during the night, though not too extensively, so we all knew that there was more rain likely throughout the day. The calculation therefore became when to leave and where to head for. My inclination was that there was little point in expecting the weather to get much better, so heading off straight after breakfast seemed sensible. I decided to head for Manchester Central, about 10 miles away, in the hope I could get into town, stock up on a few things and get out if the weather was OK, ending up in a shelter a few miles further down the trail.
The wind was really wild, piercing through the trees and blowing the previous rain from the leaves and all over me, making it feel as if it was raining, though having only a dampening effect. As the miles passed, however, the wind got stronger and the rain started to fall, gently at first, then a little stronger. I was only about 3 miles from the road into town when it started to really fall down. Luckily, there was a shelter 5 minutes ahead of me and I made it before getting too wet. Yeti Legs and Tumbles, the other two guys who had been treated for rabies, joined me 15 minutes later, wet, but happy to get respite from the rain. The third member of their group, Breaktime, had obviously ignored the shelter and continued to the road so, after lunch and about an hour, they put on their waterproofs and headed out into the pouring rain and high winds to try and catch up with him. I stayed to see if things would ease off.
After another half an hour or so, part of which was enlivened by a crazy mouse careening around the shelter in constant “laps,” I took the plunge and made my way carefully, though fairly quickly, down the mountain. I had managed to find a place to stay and headed off in high hopes of getting a shower, generally cleaning up and getting a bite to eat.
Unfortunately, my phone didn’t get a signal at the road, so I was unable to call the motel for a shuttle when I got there. So, there I was again, with my thumb in the air, though with an increasing urgency, as I figured my chances of getting a lift were decreasing with every additional raindrop that fell on me. Happily, a lovely old French couple screeched to a halt after only about 3 minutes and delivered me to the Red Sled Motel.
The motel is run by an Englishman who has been in the States for 50 years, though his Brit accent remains strong. He gave me a hiker rate of $70 and offered to do my laundry for another $7. The room was clean, though a little dated, yet he provides Netflix, which was certainly a first for me on the trail.
For only another $5, he ran me a couple of miles to the outfitter in town and returned to collect me from a restaurant/bar a few hours later.
My new British friend drove me back to the trail and I was back at it by 8am the following morning. Bromley Mountain was the first peak of the day and I started off like a train, devouring the 3 miles to the top in just over 75 minutes. I was going so well that, on the way up, I followed a sign that promised a vista, so I followed it and sat on a rock and had a snack.
It is also a ski mountain and the last 400 or so yards were through a meadow that is doubtless a ski run. At the top, the wind was blowing spectacularly, so I ducked behind a shelter and caught the sun out of the wind for 20 minutes before moving on. This video shows the meadow and the rather futuristic-looking ski lift, though my voice is pretty much drowned out, which is probably an improvement.
The descent was initially very steep and rocky (not a favorite combination), yet I managed to negotiate it without any problems. I had lunch a while later at the top of Peru Peak, which had a lot of difficult rocks to negotiate on the way up. At the very least, it was good practice for the upcoming spectaculars further north.
I reached Big Branch Shelter at 5pm and thought I was going to have a quiet night to myself, when Chip and some friends turned up, including the appropriately named Viking, who looked something of that breed, yet turned out to be very articulate and knowledgable about the whole camping experience. Not for the first time, I was reminded how wrong it is to judge a book by its cover. Viking set a fire and we all sat around together. In the meantime, Chip decided to set up his hammock between two trees that put part of the hammock directly over the rushing, and very loud, river. This river was our water source and you can see by this video how lively it was.
A very cool night in the tent left me happy that my woolen hat was going to be with my mail drop that day and I set out for the road, which was only about a mile from my shelter. When I got there, I realized that a ride was out of the question, as it was simply a mountain road that had virtually no traffic. My book had said that it was only one and a half miles into Danby, but a quick look at Google Maps had it at nearly 4 miles. I was not happy.
I walked the whole way and was joined by a boxer dog, rather worryingly named Chomper. I heard a neighbor call his name, but he seemed eager to follow me; maybe it was my rather developed odor. At the intersection with a main road, I met a girl who had been at the shelter the previous evening. She had been able to get a lift behind me from a woman, who had refused to stop for me, as I was guilty of the crime of being a man. At the road, we checked Chomper’s collar and found a number of a veterinarian and called him. The vet asked us to take him to the nearby gas station and the girl took him there, leaving me to cross the busy road without a potential dead dog on my conscience.
I got my package and went to Nichols Country Store for coffee, donut, two egg, cheese and bacon sandwiches plus two slices of French toast, butter, syrup and bacon. The very happy owner kindly asked a guy if he minded dropping me back and he agreed, even though it was clearly out of his way to the tune of about 8 miles. Another dollop of Tail Magic much appreciated.
The trail took me over a couple of mountains, but I was hiking well until I took yet another wrong turn down the mountain and was lost. Again!!! I trudged back uphill to where I should have been but couldn’t find the trail for about 40 minutes. I got back on track and went up and over another mountain for 3.6 miles in 90 minutes, eventually getting to the Minerva Hinchey Shelter, where there were 3 Long Trail hikers. I was feeling a little sorry for myself at this point, having wasted the 4 miles earlier in the day, as well as several more miles by getting lost. My rational self redressed the balance by realizing that I had still done my 13 miles, so I went to sleep happy.
I slept a little better than of late and woke to the alarm, ready to get up and over Mt Killington. I’ve been aware lately that the hike is becoming more and more lonely for me and I’m ready to move on as much as possible in order to get to my destination. This adventure has, so far, mainly been about the journey, but I now think about finishing more than anything else. I really want to enjoy New Hampshire and Maine, though I suspect they will become a grind as I struggle up and downhill. All I can do is continue with my plan to do about 13 miles a day and I should get there in time to return home for Diane’s birthday at the end of September.
I had another day that was marked by a lack of energy almost right from the start, yet I kept feeding myself to give myself a boost, but to no avail. My immediate goal was Cooper Lodge at the top of Killington, maintaining my 13 miles target, yet I stopped so many times during the climb that I began to doubt I would achieve even that. However, with stops at the two intervening shelters, as well as a 20 minute nap at the second one, I eventually got there after about 9 hours on the trail.
There was a good crowd developing, but I really wasn’t in the mood to mingle too much, so I had a quick dinner of rice, burning the bottom of my pot in the process, then set up my tent and climbed in. Of course, it then poured through the night and completed my day!
Unfortunately, I had forgotten to fasten one clip in the tent and there was a pool of water at one end when I woke. My pack was soaked, so I decided fairly early that I would get into town and get a room as soon as possible. Latecomers had tented next to me, including Nobo Hobo and Caddyshack, 2 middle aged women I had last seen about 200 miles back. “Great,” I thought, “I’m hiking at the pace of a middle aged woman. Bloody marvelous.”
The walk down the mountain was easier than the previous day’s uphill, yet often precipitous and, with the rocks and roots dramatically affected by the previous night’s rain, it was important to take care. I booked into the Inn at the Long Trail, an absolute bargain at $58, including wifi, laundry and a full breakfast. The fact that there is an Irish Pub downstairs did nothing to harm the Inn’s credentials as far as I was concerned. So, I’ve brightened up again, having lunched, dinnered and drunk a few pints of beer, while still completing 8 miles.
I’m aware that I could stop at any moment and return home to the woman I love, yet I’m driven on by a fierce desire to have that celebratory picture on the top of Katahdin. Hopefully, that desire will push me on anew.