Stick hiked more than 20 miles yesterday, most of it in miserable weather. He’s on a schedule, and as I know from similar situations, it’s not easy to keep to a plan on the trail. Weather and terrain can throw unexpected obstacles at you. After spending time with his daughter, Stick is now trying to push hard to reach Hanover in two days. He plans to meet a friend who will be hiking with him for a few days.
The Killington Motel looked like a good bet when I decided to stay here. It looked even better when I had breakfast this morning. It was an all-you-can eat breakfast, which was included in the cost of the room. I didn’t hold back. I enjoyed blueberry pancakes with Vermont maple syrup, Vermont cheese, coffee cake, fruit, and granola. I also drank several cups of coffee.
When someone heard I intended to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I was often asked, “Are you going to do it by yourself?” Many who asked seemed surprised when I told them I intended to hike alone. I’m not sure why this was such a common question. Did they think I would be lonely or that being alone would be scary? My guess is the question is based on the anxiety of the person asking the question. The truth is, the trail is not a lonely place. It’s occasionally crowded, in fact.
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.
The blowback from my son’s efforts to out racists continued today. I discovered more nasty comments had been posted on my Facebook feed. What I have been dealing with has been nothing compared to threats and abuse hurled at my son. I was concerned for him, of course, but I was also concerned about my wife. As a school teacher she has a lot to risk with what the crackpots could do. I worried about her and asked if I needed to come home, but she assured me she was taking extra care to be safe. Among other things, the local police were adding patrols of our neighborhood. Still, I remained concerned.
A few days ago, a hostel owner in Virginia put out word his establishment would be closed over the weekend. He also warned hikers that motel rooms would be hard to come by. I didn’t think much of this because I was much too far north of there and I didn't know what event was causing the commotion. Whatever it was, it was of no matter to me. I didn’t know then that neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other crackpot alt-right ne'er-do-wells were planning to hold a rally in Charlottesville. If I had known this I probably would have just shook my head and thought little more about it. I would have figured nothing much could come of the rally. Then when I awoke this morning I began to get more news about the events in Charlottesville. I learned the rally turned violent. More than 30 people were injured, and a young woman was killed when a protester rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Stick, Becky and I felt the tug of town today. We didn’t have far to go, which made the town’s pull that much stronger. We were headed to the small, tourist town of Manchester Center, Vermont. Not that we were planning to be tourists, but we knew it would be a good place to resupply and enjoy some town food. I hoped this would also give me a chance to replace my backpack, which has been falling apart for the last 250 miles. In that regard the day was a disappointment, but there were many other reasons why this day became memorable.
If you were looking for ground zero of the long distance hiking world, you would come to Stratton Mountain. James P. Taylor was sitting in his tent there during a rainy day in 1909 when he was struck by an idea. He wanted to construct a hiking trail through the entire state of Vermont, from the southern border at Massachusetts to the northern border at Canada. He was able to quickly move on his idea and by the next year work had begun on the Long Trail. When the 272-mile trail was completed in 1930 it was the first long distance recreational hiking trail in the United States. As the Long Trail was being constructed, Benton MacKaye came to this same mountain, and he too dreamed of a long trail. He took Taylor's idea and extended it into a plan. His idea became the Appalachian Trail, which would traverse the entire length of the Appalachian Mountain Range.
Several businesses along the trail have gained a reputation for being “hiker friendly,” which is a vague term with an understandable meaning. Owners of these businesses ignore the fact that hikers are smelly hobos, and provide the kinds of services that make a hike easier and more comfortable. Catamount Motel in Bennington is such a business. The motel is more than five miles off the trail, so the owners know that to attract hikers they need to provide services like laundry and rides to and from the trail. Being truly hiker friendly means more than that, though. There is an attitude of care and concern, and I found that here as well.
When a long distance hiker takes a zero day, the idea is to not just hike zero miles. It is also to do as little as possible. Truth is, there are tasks that must be done on a zero day to prepare for the next section of trail. The day is usually filled with a to-do list of laundry, resupply and loading up on extra calories. The intent of the day is rest, but stuff has to get done. Still, it's important to let your body recover after the days and days of physical exertion. I did my best today to achieve that goal.
Day 121, Sherman Brook Campsite to Bennington
It's been a long time coming; it's going to be a long time gone
When I started this hike more than four months ago, I wanted to complete it in five months. I knew a more realistic time frame would be five-and-a-half months or more. If I can keep on my current pace, I can keep that goal. The question remains, can I keep that pace, considering what lies ahead?
A saying is sometimes repeated when hikers talk about their gear: “It can be cheap, light, or durable. Pick any two." Of those three criteria, light gear is the most desirable in a long distance hike because it makes hiking is easier. That’s why most hikers try to find the lightest gear they can afford. Durability can’t be ignored, though. You don’t want your gear to fail in the middle of your hike.
Four days ago temperatures were in the 80s. The calendar says it’s still Summer, but the weather made a sudden turn today to Fall-like conditions. To point this out isn’t to complain about it. I would much rather hike in temperatures like today, in the 50s and 60s. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the drop in the temperature. Today did not feel like Summer, but I’m certain it will be back.
Day 118, Upper Goose Pond Cabin to Kay Wood Shelter
Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you
Though I have not had the pleasure of meeting Dale “Grey Beard” Sanders, he is also attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this year. He is 82 years old. That's 21 years older than me. I sometimes wonder: How much harder is it for him to do this hike than it is for me? Then again, how much easier is it for someone 21 years younger than me? Grey Beard and I are both walking the same path, climbing the same mountains and stumbling over the same rocks. Does that make the terrain an equalizer?
Yesterday was an unplanned nero (near-zero miles hiking day). I will need to pick up the pace and hike farther today if I want to catch up to Stick. If you’re wondering why Stick didn’t wait for me, the answer is simple. In fact, there are two simple answers. For one, Stick and I are hiking together because we have a good relationship, but we aren’t tied permanently together. We hike together because we have compatible hiking speeds and habits, but we also have our own goals for finishing. The second reason Stick didn’t wait for me yesterday was more practical. His daughter is planning to join him on the trail for a few days, so he needs to make sure he reaches their planned meeting spot at the right time.