I woke up around 430. How does this happen on sunrise mornings? I felt drugged as I grabbed my phone and put it inside my sleeping bag to dampen the sound of the alarm. One of the NOBOs from last night decided to drag her stuff back up the mountain and camped under the fire tower as well. I half slept for the remaining 7 minutes until the samba noise rang in my ear. I thought about snoozing, but then I remembered the 5 flights of fire tower steps and how creaky I feel in the morning. I grabbed my raincoat for extra wind protection and my phone charger to make sure my phone lasted through the obsessive picture taking (I usually charge it in the morning right after I wake up to prevent myself from running down a newly charged battery at night). Then I ducked down into the ferns so I wouldn’t have to pee in the middle of sunrise (mostly to prevent walking up and down all those stairs again). I saw a headlamp coming up the path as I used the bathroom. I figured I wouldn’t be alone for such an opportunity. It’s not often you get a 360 degree view above treeline.
It wasn’t as windy at the top, but it was still really cold. Three other hikers came for the show (2 from last night, but not the pot smoking duo). One of them went back down to get her sleeping and then stood like a puffy worm watching the sun rise. I was envious, but not enough to go get my own.
After the sun crested the ridge in the distance, I went back to bed. Woke up once around 630 and considered getting up, but laid still long enough to fall back asleep until 8am. A new trail record I think. Even then, it took some effort to get out of my tent to retrieve my food bag, which survived the night! I ate cold breakfast from the warmth of my sleeping bag. Then I slowly packed up, trying to do as much as possible from inside my tent. The incessant bugs that I thought were gnats are actually the infamous Vermont black flies. They are THE WORST. When I finally had to, I crawled out of my tent and packed the rest of my gear. While I did that, a gaggle of NOBOs arrived from the shelter to climb up the tower. I bummed some bug spray off of one of them and went back to packing. I could hear their glee and awe as they climbed above the treeline. I left my campsite pessimistically wondering when they would catch up to me.
The trail was lined with ferns and those blue beaded yellow lilies that I’ve come to love. It smelled of pine, especially when passing downed trees. As I slowly dropped in elevation, the terrain became rockier. It took about 20 minutes for the first NOBO to blow by. The rest came in waves. I felt envious of their pace but even more so their camaraderie. They’re mostly hiking alone at their own pace all day, but they get the joy of familiar faces at the end of the day. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being out here alone. I can handle the hours of solo walking in the woods. Sure, it’s more enjoyable to have the right company for that too. It’s not seeing someone I know or who knows me at the end of the day that makes me the loneliest. Of course I’m totally projecting this fantasy joy these people are feeling because for all I know they’re just as lonely as I am. Anyway, it’s a pretty harsh transition from the life of coming home to a long term partner. But I suppose it’s good practice for when I get back to Brooklyn and that pattern remains my reality to some degree. Some people thrive off of the unpredictability of who they might meet. I enjoy it at times, but when I round the corner to a new shelter and hear people there, I can feel myself bracing for the social effort that I’m about to expend.
It’s hard to articulate, and I don’t have the energy to rework that section, but the gist is that this morning I felt alone and sad and thoughts of going home to the comfort of people who make me feel good kept flashing through my head. I actually don’t remember much of the terrain from this morning because I was so far in my head. My mind also strayed towards blaming myself for not having a trail family, as they’re called. I kept trying to find the pattern between the trail and my friendships. Read: what am I doing wrong? But I know that’s not the answer. Timing has so much to do with it. I tried to let go of the fantasy alternative hike in which I have a close knit group of friends to share the insanity with. At one point, I got so overcome that I cried. Looking up at the sky helped. It was bright blue with puffy clouds and something about it made me reflexively take a deep breath. It’s a little embarrassing to share this, but it’s part of the experience as a self critical solo hiker, so I will leave it as is.
I made it to kid gore shelter around 1140. My plan was to use the privy and take a short snack break since I’d eaten lunch so late. when I arrived there were 2 friendly long trail hikers eating lunch. In light of my morning of self pity, I decided I should take advantage of what the trail had thrown me and ignore the monologue about them wanting to be left alone. We had an enjoyable break together that was capped off by meeting flip phone, a Canadian guy in his mid twenties. He had apparently been at Seth warner with the older group of women and he knew my name because they’d asked about me. I hope I can run into them again somewhere down the road. I feel too fast for the older people I enjoy and too slow for the younger people I connect with. Excuse me while I whine a lot today.
After lunch, I set out for story spring shelter with my lunch company, Weezy and Rookie, neither of whom have ownership over their trail names yet. You can tell when a trail name is new or someone is new to trail names because there’s hesitation when people introduce themselves. Sometimes (as in their case) people will give both their real name and their trail name. As it turns out, they walk a very similar pace to me, so we were together for about a mile until Weezy needed a break. I kept going because I felt self conscious about their desire to be around me. Then I went into over analyzing mode once again. Theme of the day, but it was less intense this time.
The trail was a bit of a tunnel after lunch, with rolling hills and thick forest around me. The weather could not have been nicer. There was one more open view about 3 miles from the shelter. Then back to rocks and mud pits, of which there were many today. I couldn’t bear the thought of wet feet after having dry ones for the better part of a day and a half, so hopped and twisted my way around the muck. My feet were sore from trying to hop too far from rock to rock to keep my shoes dry. When I wasn’t dodging puddles, I was hobbling over rocks and roots. I also felt drained from the eleven hours of hiking yesterday combined with a late bedtime and an early rise. Going back to bed didn’t do much in the way of restful sleep.
I made it to the shelter around 4. The tent sites are rocky and lopsided. I wandered around for a few minutes eyeing them all multiple times hoping they’d be better upon closer inspection. I finally settled on one with a slight downward slant but the fewest lumps and rocks. Weezy and rookie arrived as I was finishing my tent set up. After bumming some bug spray, I gave them space to be exhausted. I went into the woods well beyond my tent, and ran a bear line. Then I filtered water and finished setting up my bed. I decided to soak my feet in the stream because it had the perfect set up. I plopped down amongst the moss and roots and dunked my feet for as long as I could stand the ice water. So basically 20 seconds at a time. VT stream water is significantly colder than MA! When I was done freezing my feet, I came back to my tent and went about sewing my shorts. It was tedious and I almost gave up, but I forced myself to finish. Here’s the end result.
By that point my stomach was rumbling, so I grabbed my food bag from the bear line and made myself dinner. I felt good about my decision to stay here instead of pushing ahead to a campsite about 3 miles up. I needed to be around people and there were a few good conversations. Weezy asked me if I was a teacher because she felt like I had that vibe. When I told her I’m a therapist, she felt validated in her read of me. A couple who sound as if they’re from the Deep South, or possibly West Virginia, talked with Flip phone and a French guy about the Camino trails in Spain and Portugal. As I finished my dinner, I heard JD’s voice say my name behind me. I had mixed feelings about seeing him because I am not ready for his droning on, but I figured that mean halfway wouldn’t be far behind. As it turns out, Halfway actually passed the shelter sometime when I was in my tent! Or possibly when I was hanging my bear line. I don’t know, but I’m so disappointed that I missed him. Chances are high that I will run into him tomorrow, but it’s so ridiculous that he walked right past me. Timing.
After dinner, I hid out in my tent, half involving myself in weezy and flip phone’s conversation. I feel guilty for not being more engaged with JD, but we are just not compatible. Now I’m finishing this to the sound of frogs in the distance, the squeaking and rustling of hikers shifting about and the odd twig snapping. This shelter has had some notorious bear activity in the last few days, so I’m curious to see if one surfaces tonight. I think I will get an early start to get some miles in before the rain.
Mile 1621 to mile 1629.6 (8.6)
Total miles: 626.4
Creature feature: several garter snakes (which now make me think of cotton jumping back) and a dragonfly that I haven’t seen before by this beaver pond: