Day 64: moose tracks and trail magic edition

Tossed and turned most of the night. I think the rain makes noises that keep my subconscious on high alert. My legs were also incredibly itchy all.damn.night. Woke up around 530 groggy and unenthused about moving. I put on my puffy coat and retrieved my foodbag from the tree. I forgot to put my shoes under the vestibule, which I sort of realized in the middle of the night, but didn’t feel like fixing. Thankfully they were only superficially wet. Had breakfast in my tent because the picnic table was soaked and no one else had surfaced from their caves. I considered listening to a book on tape (cant seem to let that phrase go) or music, but decided I’d rather just eat in silence. 
Snow White came over while I was packing up and asked how I fared through the night. She hadn’t slept very well either, but I was far enough away from her that I didn’t hear any mumbling or night screams.  Apparently she has nightmares almost every night and has for years. I was ready to go by 7 as the others gathered at the picnic table for their standing breakfast. I said goodbye with the acknowledgement that I probably wouldn’t see them for awhile because I intend to go about 14 miles today. 

I went down to the pond and filtered a liter of water next to a mother and son duo out for about 10 days of southbound section hiking. Fog rolled over the surface of the pond and I took more pictures even though it looked much the same last night. Then I went through all the text messages that buzzed in as I stood in a pocket of service. That delayed me long enough that shutterbug ran into me about 2 minutes from the campsite, which made him laugh We ogled more of the teeny tiny mountain laurel together and then I pulled ahead. 

The trail hugged the eastern side of the pond until the northern corner where it turned right into the woods. There was a gentle rise in elevation over sodden leaves with occasional rocks to step around. I could hear a stream that feeds into the pond below me off to my left. The trail eventually curved around to cross the stream over a small footbridge. Two trails going in slightly different directions stemmed from the bridge on the other side. I had to check my GPS to make sure I didn’t waste energy taking the wrong path. Then the trail climbed just enough to warm me up despite the rocks slowing my pace. The mornings have been chilly enough to warrant walking in my wool base layer for the first couple of miles. Makes me a little worried for the whites, which are at a much higher elevation. 
When the trail flattened out again, I was greeted with mud. Surprise, surprise. Thankfully it was strong enough to walk through or there were work arounds that didn’t require balancing on eroding banks. The fringe benefit of mud is that I get to see things like moose tracks. 

A detracting factor is that it makes my steps louder, thus lowering my chances of seeing the actual moose. Although I’ve been told I might not want to see a moose because they can be volatile when frightened by humans. When I reached what seemed to be the end of the tracks, I heard a knock in the woods off to my left. I froze and listened again while scanning the trees. Then came the familiar rapping of a foraging woodpecker. No moose for me. 
The trail climbed yet again, getting brighter as the canopy thinned above me. Even though I didn’t sleep well, I can tell that the lower mileage and longer time off my feet at night is helping. The trail flattened out to a thick sea of ferns below the evergreens and yellow lilies not quite in bloom. I came across the first of two rock gardens, which thankfully did not involve walking over any rocks like the last “garden” outside of Williamstown. Instead I got to look at a sea of cairns. 

The forest expanded out to widely spaced pines with a thick layer of needles forming the trail. 

I found the perfect sitting rock complete with a little footstool and made a few phone calls to see about getting a shuttle. The price is higher than I had hoped, but it makes sense because it’s about a 40 minute drive. The trail then took a rocky down turn that required paying close attention to where I stepped because there was not much between me and a painful drop off. I passed two people going south and I warned them about the exposed ledges at Baker Peak. Shutterbug passed me while I was sitting on my rock eating a snack and getting quotes. After my break, I went through another rock garden even more intense than the first: 

Then came the long trip down from Greenwell shelter where I had considered staying yesterday. The miles in between the two shelters were not bad, but I imagine they would’ve been harder with 10 more miles on my feet. I heard a motor of some sort off in the distance, which is unusual for the last few days in Vermont. I’ve been primarily in wilderness areas, which involve few road crossings and even fewer commercial or residential activity, that I can see anyway. Apparently there are a number of vacation cabins along the slopes of Stratton and Bromley, according to the hostel owner of green mountain house, but they are well hidden to preserve the wild/green reputation of Vermont. 
My ears popped twice on way down the mountain. I could hear bully brook from quite a ways up the trail. I took a detour down a social trail (a phrase I like that read in a book awhile ago) to get a better picture of this waterfall. 

The trail followed the stream and crossed it at some point that I missed. I happened to check my map because I noticed what looked like a trail on the other bank and wondered if I’d done something wrong. Turns out I was about a hundred yards too far north and on the wrong side of the brook. This tree was incredibly tempting to walk over, but the “that looks fun” response is how I usually get hurt, so I abstained. 

Not that the wet rocks were much safer. Once on the other side of the bank, I bushwhacked and followed the blue dot in my guthook app back to the proper trail. Given the packed leaves, I’m guessing a lot of people miss that turn. As this was happening, my steady and I managed to nail down some concrete plans for her visit. The trail crossed a dirt road. then there was another short hill down to a paved road with a brook running alongside it. I considered stopping for lunch because I could sit on the footbridge, but it felt too early. Instead, I stretched my calves and ankles and gave my feet a quick massage. 
Then came a massive climb up to nowhere. I assume the mountain has a name, but it’s not in my app and I don’t have the topo map downloaded for this section. On my way up, I met the man named Brooklyn that I had heard about. He went into town to get a hard copy of AWOL because he has no phone. I know it’s been done a thousand times, but I honestly can’t fathom thru hiking without my phone. I guess if I wasn’t such a planner it would be easier to imagine. I also met a man named pippin who was dressed in a half buttoned Hawaiian shirt, possibly swim trunks, and chacos. When I said “nice shirt” he said “thanks, it keeps me happy.” As he placidly walked by me, he said, “if I go too slow just let me know.” I snickered and told him there was no chance of that happening. 
As I huffed my way to the viewless summit, I felt good about my choice not to eat at the road. It would have made the climb even harder. My stomach rumbled in disagreement as I reached the flat stretch between two climbs. I forced myself to wait until the trail started to head down before eating. I found a spot where two downed trees crossed over each other, providing both a seat and a side table of sorts. I’m getting dangerously low on honey, which makes my pb frito wrap slightly less exciting, but it’s still pretty damn good. As I ate, I did some research for a few visit logistics. Stupid rental cars. But I think we’ve figured it out and I’m going to take Monday off for company! And I don’t have to get a shuttle. I’m running ahead of schedule for my next overnight at mountain meadows lodge, so I might also take Friday off because Monday won’t truly be a day of rest. We might walk to waterfalls or go canoeing, all of which requires time on my feet. Plus I need some time to get all of these posts in order and figure out a rough sketch of NH, both of which cannot be done while paying attention to anything but my phone and my guidebooks. 
I made the mistake of not putting on an extra layer while I ate lunch. All of the sweat I’d worked up on the climb chilled me to the point of goosebumps. I tried to walk through it, but gave up and put on my raincoat for a bit of warmth. That lasted about 20 minutes, but it was worth all the stopping and starting. The descent from nameless viewless mountain was mild. On the way down, I heard a strange rustle that didn’t fit my catalogue of noises. I looked up to find a dog and a woman in her mid 40’s breathing raggedly. She said hey! Are you hiking the whole thing! (the exclamation marks denote both her excitement and her attempt to catch her breath) I said yes and she told me that she’d put trail magic in the upcoming shelter. Clementines, candy and BANANAS. I thanked her profusely as she hurried along saying “I’m so proud of you!” with a slight touch of my shoulder. I walked downhill smiling at such open support. The trail was soft and graded downward at just the right angle to half-jog my way toward the bananas.

 I think it was my fastest 1.9 miles yet, which means I did it just below the average pace of nearly everyone else. 

From a distance the bananas looked terrible, but upon closer inspection they were just brown from having been carried. I grabbed the better of the two and sat on the edge of the shelter to eat. I also grabbed mini Twix, which are my favorite and which I couldn’t find at the grocery store in Manchester. Lucky me. I sent fearless a text joking about how I grabbed candy because my food bag felt too light. 
The sunlight and the breeze made it hard to get up, but I felt determined to push to the next shelter. It’s not often the choice for shelters are the perfect distance apart, and I only had 3.7 miles to go. I regretted leaving Snow White and fearless behind, but I wanted the physical satisfaction of hiking longer. Shutterbug arrived at the shelter right as I walked back from filtering water. He said he was going to stay because he didn’t have another long uphill in him. I told him I enjoyed hanging out with the people, but I needed to keep moving. 

The trail between the two shelters was not easy. There was a stiff climb out of Minerva shelter that eventually led me to this view of the airport. The trail angel and her dog passed me again. I thanked her for the banana and she muttered something about “you’re so cool” as she kept walking. I tried to start a conversation with her about what she was doing out in the woods, but she didn’t hear my question. I let her go, partially because I wanted to beat the rain behind me and didn’t have time for lengthy chattiness. 
I sat at the airport view and ate a snack, steeling myself for the descent ahead. I didn’t know what to expect and feared a rocky mess. As it turns out, it was a steep, root-filled mess much like the pine forests of MA. Little nubbins of roots hidden amongst what appear to be soft pine needles. So painful. When I didn’t think I could take any more downhill, the trail got a bit steeper and dumped me out at this suspension bridge. 

There were people down below enjoying the sun and the water.  It was an impressive spot with sharply carved out rocks and the fast flowing Mill river. 

I considered trying to find a way down there, but I knew I would be hot and sweaty the moment I started the climb out of the gorge. I also still had that rain storm in the back of my mind. So I pushed onward. 

The trail crossed over route 103 and went through a field of 4 foot high weeds. I absolutely hate walking through tall grass. All I can think about are ticks. Then came the intense climb up to Clarendon lookout, which was a view of the airport from a different angle. The climb started mildly enough, but halfway through, it turned into this: 

And kept going like this: 

I heard thunder in the distance and tried to pick up the pace. The boulders were not meant for 5’4″ people. I felt like my knees were up to my eyeballs with some of the steps I had to take. Made one bad decision on a slanted wet rock that ended with a controlled fall on to the meaty part of my left butt cheek. No damage. Just a good laugh. 

I made it to the empty shelter around 430. It felt eery to be there alone. I wandered around the pines looking for a suitable tent site. My tent is already wet, so I figured why not keep the bugs away and set it up even though it’s supposed to rain (top picture is my camping spot after the sun came back out). When I went down to the stream below the shelter to filter water, my ears played tricks on me, and I thought I heard voices in the distance. When I came back up the bank, I was still alone. I threw a bear line on a questionable branch (right height, but it looked dead). Then I boiled water and stretched while my food cooked. I ate in silence sitting on a bench oddly placed at the front of the shelter. 
As I pulled out my newly acquired Twix, the sky darkened and the wind picked up. I debated whether to rush through brushing my teeth to hang my food bag before the downpour. I decided to get it over with, so I gathered my things and went to get my line. As I walked away from my tent, a woman arrived and said “I made it!” I know that joy. It’s when you’ve saved yourself from plodding through the rain for at least a few minutes. I called out congratulations and went back to my task. I hadn’t gotten the bag halfway in the air before the limb cracked. By that point, it had started to rain, so I threw a half ass bear line across a couple of low limbs on a different tree. 
A male hiker had arrived in the time that I was fussing with my bag. It felt lonely and anti social to hide away in my tent, so I sat awkwardly in the shelter and made conversation. The guy is a long trail section hiker who does 1 week a year. The woman is from Poland and her name is zebra. she started her thru hike in GA less than a month before I started a thousand miles north of springer. In other words, she is flying. She hasn’t taken a zero day yet. We are shoe twins, which excited her beyond measure. 

When the conversation petered out, I decided that I should take the extra time to write and possibly get to sleep earlier instead of force a social interaction. But first, I rehung my food bag because the rain had stopped and it seemed irresponsible to leave it as is. Two teenagers who arrived around 730 hung their food bag directly against the trunk about 4 feet off the ground. I secretly want their food to get stolen because they moved and acted as if they were hot shit. 

Now I’m finishing this with freezing hands to the sound of periodic spurts of raindrops, the white noise of the stream a hundred yards away, birds finishing up their songs for the night, and the doofus voices of the teenagers talking in their tent. I hope it doesn’t rain all night so I can get some actual sleep. 
Mile 1670.5 to mile 1684.1 (13.6) 

Total miles: 680.9 
Creature feature: a garter snake in the tall grass, which feels like the beginning of an old time song, woodpecker chicks screeching from a hole in the tree trunk, and a chipmunk who sat at the edge of the shelter eyeballing me for snack opportunities during dinner. Oh and a prehistoric looking bird I’ve seen a couple of times in the last two days skimming the surface of ponds, which I now realize is a kingfisher. (Thank you, bird book at the lodge)


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