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AT 2017: Day 128, Minerva Hinchey Shelter to Cooper Lodge

But I would walk 500 miles

Hike with Gravity

There are many reminders along the trail of how far I have walked and how far I have to go. Some are signs posted by trail maintainers, others are simple numbers formed in sticks or rocks to mark the miles.

A constant stream of reference points also travels with me in another fashion. These points appear in guidebooks, maps and smartphone apps. They help me instantly see where I am.

Date
Weather Cloudy, then turning partly sunny; a high temperature in the mid 60s
Trail Conditions A long climb up Killington Peak
Today's Miles 14.1 miles
Trip Miles 1,694.5 miles

Having so many ways to stay continuously aware of where I am provides an odd contrast. On one hand, I am lulled by the slow but steady progress I’m making. On the other, I become sharply aware I am nearing the end. These feelings both build and deflate the anticipation.

Every now and then, I see a marker that puts the remaining distance in better perspective. I passed one of those this afternoon. It was a small, wooden sign mounted on a tree, which simply said, “Kathdin 500 miles.”

Through regular checks of my trail app, I knew when I saw the sign it wasn’t placed in the correct spot. The distance of the trail changes slightly from one year to the next, but the sign had not been moved to match the current distance. Still, it was close enough.

Maybe it was because I knew of the inaccurate location, or maybe because 500 miles still seemed like a formidable number, but I didn’t celebrate when I saw the sign. I lingered a few moments, though, to smile and contemplate. Reaching the end seemed more possible than ever.

Before leaving Minerva Hinchey Shelter this morning I spent some time chatting with Skywalker and Spillz. This delayed my departure by a few minutes, but I didn’t mind. I knew I was only going to hike about 14 miles today.

The shelter was only a couple hundred feet off the trail. Once I was back to walking on it, I followed it along a ridge line.

After the first couple miles I reached a viewpoint called Airport Lookout. As you might expect, an airport could be seen from here. It was located near the town of Clarendon.

At the beginning of the descent from the ridge I came upon a trail maintenance crew. They were carrying a two-man crosscut saw. I made note of that, commenting that I didn’t think this section of the trail was in a wilderness area, where motorized equipment is prohibited.

I was right, they answered, but said they simply liked to use this type of saw instead of a chainsaw.

Just as I was about to leave, the woman told me she had thru-hiked the trail several years ago. Her trail name was Mrs. GORP.

"Mrs. GORP!” I replied. "I know you from the old AT-L email list.”

She was the second person I had met on this hike whom I remembered was part of the all-but-dormant email discussion list I joined when I wanted to learn about the Appalachian Trail. It’s where I got to know Felix, whom I finally got to meet in person about three weeks ago.

Mrs. GORP said she knew Felix well, so I told her I was hoping he would hike with me again when I reach New Hampshire.

After our chat I thanked Mrs. GORP and the other two trail crew members for their work, then headed down the trail. The trail descended steeply, and I passed some of the work completed by the crew.

At the bottom of the descent I reached a footbridge. It wasn’t until I got closer that I saw the bridge stretched across a deep chasm.

As I crossed the bridge I could see this was Clarendon Gorge, a rock canyon carved by the Mill River.

The trail then intersected with Vermont Highway 103. A small field of tall weeds followed before the trail began a steep climb.

At times, the climb was especially rocky. The day was still early, though, so I powered up the trail.

Another steep section followed, this one up a knob called Beacon Hill. There were no views from here, only a tall and narrow beacon tower operated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Just past Upper Cold River Road I saw the small, wooden sign indicating there were 500 miles to go to reach Mt. Katahdin.

Late in the afternoon I stopped for water and a short break at Governor Clement Shelter. This was at the base of Killington Peak, the big climb of the day.

This climb was nearly 2,000 feet up on about four miles of trail. The steepness of the climb was made worse by many roots covering the trail.

As I neared the top I met a woman who was backpacking with her three children. The McClarty family was trudging bravely down the mountain over difficult terrain. The kids looked tired, but they didn’t complain.

As we talked, I mentioned the problems I was having with my pack, and Mrs. McClarty kindly offered to arrange with her husband to get a pack to me. I thanked her, but said I hoped to find one tomorrow at the outfitter store in Killington.

The time was past 5:30 when I left the McClartys. I knew it would begin to get dark in a couple hours and I wanted to get to Cooper Lodge soon because I knew there were not a lot of camping spots nearby. I thought I was nearing the top, but I actually had much farther to go.

Rocks were now competing with roots for making the rest of the climb more difficult. It took me another hour before I reached Cooper Lodge.

Calling this place a lodge was a stretch. A more accurate term might be “dump.” It looked as though a couple hikers planned to sleep inside the building tonight, but I could not think of a reason why they would want to.

Then I looked around for a campsite and realized one possible reason. Not only were there not many campsites here, the few that were available were not good spots. The forest floor was covered in roots and rocks, and the side of the mountain was steep.

Skywalker pointed out a potential spot for me, and though it was not ideal I decided I could make it work. The space was located 40 or 50 yards below the lodge in a small, almost flat gap between large roots. Unfortunately, a lot of broken glass was scattered about. I picked up most of what I could find because I didn’t want to risk tearing a hole in my tent floor.

From here, I have 495.3 miles to go to reach Mt. Katahdin. Each day on the trail puts me closer to that destination. Of course, each day also puts me at risk of an injury or sickness or other calamity that would prevent me from reaching it.

I’m growing more confident I can get to Katahdin, but I’m also growing more wary of the risks.

When I'm lonely, well I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who's lonely without you
And when I'm dreaming, well I know I'm gonna dream
I'm gonna dream about the time when I'm with you
When I go out (when I go out) well I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you
And when I come home (when I come home) yes I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who comes back home with you
I'm gonna be the man who's coming home with you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

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