Day 60: uninvited guest edition 

We had quite the excitement last night,(read: not enough sleep). Camp had been quiet for over an hour, and I had just finished writing the day’s notes. I curled further into my sleeping bag and I was nearly asleep when I heard a loud crash. I thought for sure it was my food bag because i heard a clank of metal that sounded like my bowl. Then I heard a man’s voice doing what appears to be the universal bear scare tactic. It sounds sort of like the same “Haa” noise cowboys make in movies when they’re trying to get horses to do things. I saw a headlamp beam flashing wildly from side to side while leaves crunched in the woods at the bottom edge of camp. I crawled out of my tent to check out the commotion (sorry mom, I really wanted to see the bear). Rookie, who I met the day before, was standing by his tent with his pack near his feet. The bear had tried to drag his entire bag out from under the rain fly of the tent. 
The bear skirted the edges of camp for about 10 minutes. Apparently rookie had his tea mug and spoon in his pack and Weezy had a bag of snacks in her pack. I don’t think she realized that she needed to put all of her food in the bear hanging bag, but now she knows! They had to decide what to do with their smellables (e.g. food bowls, utensils, and anything that has a scent that might attract animals). They were wary about messing with their bear line, so I suggested they lock them in the privy because it has a door and a latch. 
I got back into my tent and waited to see how and when the bear would be back because they always come back. I saw weezy and rookie walking towards the privy. Suddenly they started yelling because the bear was by the privy. I heard weezy say “i cant do this!” but she did. Rookie drove the bear further into the woods while she put their stuff in the privy. I was on edge after that, freezing with every rustle I heard. I pulled my mace out of my pack and had it by my glasses and headlamp at the ready, trying to imagine what I would do if a bear poked his head into the mesh of my tent. 
I slept fitfully. I’ve started folding my right wrist over in my sleep, which makes it achy the rest of the day, especially with the pressure of using a hiking pole. I used to wear braces on both my wrists at night to keep me from folding them. Anyway, I woke up several times throughout the night, my ears straining to hear the rustle of a bear getting my bag. Around 4am, I woke to the sound of Froggy yelling at the bear and banging against the side of the shelter. Apparently the bear had come right to the edge of the shelter to see if there was anything worth stealing. I half attempted to go back to sleep, but I decided to just get up around 430. There’s supposedly rain coming through midday, and it seemed like a good opportunity to get up and over Stratton Mountain before things get slippery. I felt anxious about walking back into the woods to get my food bag in the dim light. I swung my light from side to side while I loosened the knot for my bear line. No sign of the bear. Then I had a quiet breakfast with froggy at the picnic table while other people began to stir. I was packed and on the trail by 6am. So much for sleep. 

The trail was forgettable for the first mile. Then it turned into what felt like a dirt bike track with mud pits spaced out almost uniformly twenty yards apart. The mud was upwards of 10 inches thick in places. I did my best to hike the edges or find rocks to avoid wet feet. One misstep ended with my entire foot disappearing below the mud line but my foot came out much drier than I expected. The woods were dark and I felt edgy from all the bear activity last night. It didn’t help that I’d seen a dark shape farther up the trail that was definitely not a deer. No confirmed bear sighting, but something moved off farther into the woods as I approached. 

I squelched my way through the mud pits, passing warm, thick pockets of air as the humidity rose. The trail crossed a large stream with a nice campsite that I looked at longingly, wishing I could have kept going yesterday because it might have meant a better night’s sleep. The trail across the stream was easy walking with patches of sunlight that helped change the mood even more. Sadly it only lasted about a quarter mile before I was plunged back into the mud flats. 

I took my first break around 8 and decide to eat with the miles and not with the time because I usually wait until about 930 for my first snack. When I get so little sleep, I feel a bottomless hunger, which meant an hour later I ate again. The trail took me within earshot of a large stream then veered uphill towards a more northern crossing point with a footbridge. Shortly after the stream, I came to Kelley stand road. Halfway apparently camped just across the road and had his own bear troubles last night. The trail went through pine groves and forgettable forest for a bit, then crossed another dirt road. I took a short break to massage my feet and my Achilles’ tendons because it seemed like I was about to head up Stratton mountain based on the change in landscape. My feet were holding at about a 6 on the pain scale. Earlier in the morning, I took the metatarsal pad out of my left shoe because it seemed like it was doing more harm than good. I also taped my right pinky toe because it felt hot and squished, which hasn’t happened much on the trail. It’s usually more of a running malady, but maybe my feet are swollen. Who knows. 
The two mile ascent up to the summit of Mt. Stratton was easier then I expected given that it’s the highest mountain yet. It’s all about how much elevation you gain in a given distance. It helped that about a third of the trail was flat pine needle covered sections with minimal roots. After about forty minutes of climbing, I ran into JD who said he’d seen halfway packing up his camp. Given halfway’s need for breaks on hills and my speed, I thought I might have a chance of catching him at any time. I had to stop myself from running up the rest of the mountain. I couldn’t wait to be around someone who feels easy and with whom I have stories, even if it’s just 2.5 weeks of hiking together. I could feel my feet getting tender, so I forced myself to slow down a notch. I had planned to take a break about a mile from the summit, but the threat of JD invading my mental space and missing halfway kept me walking. When I hit the summit, an older woman named jean came out of the caretaker cottage and wanted to chat. I tried my best to not rush away from her, but I felt itchy to look for halfway. Jean told me about the yoga conference happening at the neighboring ski resort (“Wanderlust” if you’re interested). There was the promise of free food at the bottom of the ski lift, which wasn’t much of a draw for me. I had my mind set on another pb frito wrap. Judge me if you will. 

Jean finally wandered back to the cottage (the building in this pic) and I walked toward the fire tower. I looked up and saw the telltale kakhi hiking pants and rust colored shirt of halfway’s up the stairs. Halfway looked over the railing and smiled wide while he pointed down at me and said “you.” I called up “excuse me sir, you’re not allowed to be up there.” He laughed and kept the joke running. I walked up the 5 or 6 flights to the top where we had a fist bump hello (I would have insisted on a hug, but I’ve worn the same shirt for 4 days straight). 

We left the tower as JD arrived and then we all sat below it in a swarm of black flies. I couldn’t take the bugs any longer, so I left before they did. 

The descent from stratton was beautiful and milder than I expected. The first half mile was much like Glastenbury with an abundance of yellow lilies, evergreens and bright ferns. The path ranged from soft to rocky stream-like conditions. I heard the familiar clicking of halfway’s poles behind me, and I felt both comforted and aggravated that he’s so damn fast. My feet felt tired and sore. I’d found out earlier that halfway planned to stay at Stratton pond, so I let go of any inkling to go farther (thus making tomorrow a very short day). I tend to do better with evenly spaced mileage anyway, so I will just get up early and try to get to the road crossing for Manchester center at a decent time (the hostel I’m staying at tomorrow requires a pickup in town between 1-7p). 

Stratton pond shelter is a huge structure that holds 16 bunks and has a large covered porch. I ate my classy lunch wrap while I listened to treebeard and halfway catch up. I waited to choose my bunk until JD arrived so I could ensure some distance from his snoring. Then I laid around and wrote the first half of this entry, very nearly falling asleep in the process. I kind of wish I had. 

Halfway and I took the longer than desired walk to the pond to get water at the adjacent spring. Then I laid around with my feet up against the shelter wall, basically being a tired lump. Everyone started slowly putting their dinner together around 6. Around 630 halfway suggested we walk back to the pond to see about sunset, which we had discussed earlier. It felt way too early to go down, but he said he probably wouldn’t stay awake long enough to see the actual sunset, so I went with him to take advantage of the unfettered catching up time. I couldn’t keep up with him on the walk down. How does he walk so fast?? 

We sat at the edge of the pond and stared into a wall of gray clouds. Not a promising start. We talked about people we’d met. I whined about feeling alone and unsatisfied with my social experience the last few weeks. He agreed that it was hard to find people he connected with and he lamented losing two people he’d really enjoyed just a few days ago. We also discussed the absurdity of the intensity the trail brings to friendships. He had also felt like he was greeting an old friend today even though we barely know each other. It’s like the steroidal friendships of summer camp for adults.  

Halfway left around 7, and I remained, waiting for a phone call from my steady. I finally got fed up with the bugs and asked the nearby tenters if I could borrow some bug spray from them. Around 730, the sun broke through and the wall of clouds shifted about to form this view: 

I watched the light shift as I attempted to have a planning conversation with my steady, but the cell service was terrible. I was exhausted and frustrated, which is a terrible combo for feeling close to someone. We are attempting to plan for her to visit me in VT. Easier said than done when I’m hiking with terrible service and she’s in a time intensive post grad program. Anyway, we didn’t get very far and ended the conversation so everyone could get sleep. I made the trek back up to the shelter in the waning light feeling out of sorts. 

I tried to get into bed without making much noise. The shelter was pitch black, as to be expected because hiker midnight hits anywhere between 730-8 depending on the crowd. I settled into my bag as the rain started and wondered how many new bug bites I would get in the night. 

Mile 1629.6 to mile 1640.1 (10.5) 

Total miles: 636.9 

Creature feature: I have to admit I’m finishing two days later so I can’t remember what I saw that day. 

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