“What is that?” The words posed one question while simultaneously answering another, namely, “are you sure you’re prepared?” That was 5 days ago now while Ace and I were in the midst of finishing her 13-year quest to become an Adirondack 46er. But the question still makes me cringe a little.
Long Trail 2021
Daily dispatches and photos from the Long Trail, a 271-mile footpath stretching across the state of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada.
Hearing the patter of raindrops on the roof of the tent, it was hard to know whether last night’s storm had overstayed its welcome or if the winds that had swept it away were simply ushering downward the moisture that had collected on the canopy above us. By the time we realized it was the latter, it was on to a familiar routine.
A swirl of clouds against a blue sky was all that remained of the clouds that had held hostage the open space above the treetops yesterday. Buried in the forest as the Long Trail typically is, it’s easy to forget how expansive and brilliant that sky can be—until you have an opportunity to peek out from above those very trees.
When I was a kid, I loved geography. Couldn’t get enough of it. Maps, atlases, countries, flags, states, capitals. It was the first way I remember trying to understand the world I was a part of. To learn about my place in that world, and to exercise that childhood curiosity about places I would likely never see with my own two eyes…
I smelled my shirt just as a quick check. Yup, I smell terrible. But surely that can’t be the answer, can it? The reason for my olfactory investigation wasn’t because I was unsure of exactly how awful I stunk—I was already quite certain of that. It was because I couldn’t find an explanation to why we so suddenly had the trail all to ourselves.
The air, even overnight, could be worn like any other article of clothing. A bit like a shirt that fits a size too small. Suffocating with its humid stickiness that gives everything an imperceptible dampness, even the things you know to be bone dry. Sleeping in it is an exercise in futility. At least it always has been for me.
Surprise! Apparently the temptation of dragging oneself through mud and over rocks for a few days was too hard to resist for at least one person. Well, now you’ll know the face of the person who was just crazy enough to come and join us for the next 60 miles of that kind of fun: our friend Jesse Surprise.
Gap. Saddle. Pass. Col. Notch. Call them what you will, but the reality is the same regardless. Reaching one typically heralds a road crossing and the end of a descent but it’s the climb back up waiting on the other side that usually catches your attention. Beginning today, those gaps will start coming faster and more furiously as the trail edges into the higher peaks of Vermont.
I remember. Not the smell of cotton candy or roasted peanuts, not the bright flashing lights of this ride or that one. I remember the crush of people and what it felt like to walk through them, meandering my own personal maze down the midway at the New York State fair.
Playing coy. That’s what they were doing. The promise of clear skies presaged by the light blue patches above our heads early this morning was, apparently, a tease. For awhile, at least. Perched as it is halfway up the climb to the summit of Mt. Abraham, we left Battell Shelter this morning with the hope that the freshening breeze would drive away the pesky clouds by the time we reached the top.
It’s a habit I ought to break. That’s what I told myself hardly an hour into our hike after returning to the trail following a much needed day off. The man who’d delivered us back to the string of white blazes beckoning us ever northward was Rick Swanson. He and his partner Tim own and operate the Swanson Inn, an idyllic Vermont inn just outside the town of Waitsfield…
The rain is deafening. Inside the spacious shelter of Taylor Lodge, nestled into the shadow of Mt. Mansfield, the sound is amplified by the metal roof making each drop sound like the beat of a snare drum. Lying in the dark, it’s hard to know whether my ears are being deceived by the acoustics or the downpour really is that heavy.
It was not an acoustic illusion. The deafening rain on the shelter’s metal roof hadn’t been lying after all, the wall of gray having unleashed a flurry of drops that matched the maddeningly loud sound above our heads. Eyes and ears in agreement, it was undeniably pouring.
What is at the heart of any trail experience? It’s a question I’ve had more time than most to ponder over, the luxury of a charmed life whose privilege is never forgotten. And over many years and many thousands of miles, I’ve come to the realization that the experience of a trail is not about the trail itself, not the thing physically beneath your feet. It’s about where it takes you.
Pancake Power is serious power. Just ask Gazelle. She’ll tell ya. My little Canadian friend and fellow lover of pancakes would have approved of the way this day began, with coffee, eggs, sausage, and the most divine blueberry pancakes courtesy of our hosts at Nye’s Green Valley Farm B&B.
My feet seem to know where they need to go. Limbs move, trekking poles find their next position with a gentle clack against the rock, quads laden with lactic acid somehow swing each leg forward only to have the process repeat itself nearly 50,000 more times.
When you finally put the last piece of a puzzle into its rightful place, exactly how long should you admire the completed work before taking it apart and putting it neatly back into its box? A few minutes? A few hours? A day? A week?
Let me start by saying I am happy to have hiked the Long Trail, grateful my feet held up, and that we both finished the trail injury-free. But (there is always a but), the Long Trail’s Yelp review will only get 3 out of 5 stars. It is highly recommended for hikers who like mud, roots, walking in trees and humidity.