The view from our apartment window in the Everglades in 2007.
Hike 1: Southern Terminus to Country Road (Seth Warner Shelter). Division 1. Mile 0-3 on the trail. Total hike of 16 miles.
I call myself an “indoorsy person.” It’s not that I do not like nature, I just rather view it through a window, while sitting in a climate controlled environment. And it is not that I have not tried my hand at outdoorsy events, I’ve dabbled. At one point I was married to a wildland firefighter who would drag me outdoors to accompany him while hiking up a mountain without rest, kayaking while we lived in the Everglades, fishing,
Unhappy fisher in Florida, circa 2007.
or even learning to enjoy spending time alone in the forest when we lived in the two bar town of Crouch, Idaho. The thing was, these were his interests that he was forcing on me. And, well, I was miserable with him. At the time, while I knew such things did not appeal to me, I thought the exposure to something new would be good for my development, and so I tried, often with a big frown on my face.
But now I find myself (happily divorced and) living in the Northeast, close to the Adirondack Mountains, the Berkshires, Vermont, Maine, and endless hiking trails. In an effort to appreciate the area I live in (which doesn’t come naturally), I have decided to turn over a new leaf and see if I have any interest in hiking. Besides my ex hiking me up that mountain in Idaho as practice for his pack test, I’ve gone out with friends for super casual and easy hikes in the upstate New York region. But only now am I thinking seriously about hiking The Long Trail in particular–alone. I’m an extremist, and when I get interested in something, I jump in all the way (sometimes I also quickly jump back out).
So one week after my 39th birthday, I finally made it on the trail, starting on Pine Cobble trail in Williamstown, MA, which lead to the Vermont border, where the Long Trail starts, and with which the Appalachian Trail overlaps for the next 100 miles. It was a cool, windy day, on the verge of rain. I had a very small pack with me with just enough food and water to get me through the day, along with an emergency poncho, trail book and maps. I was surprised by how excited I was to be out in the woods, away from all the social structures that always make me brood daily about the plight of humanity (I’m a sociologist). I was away from people, buildings, rules, authority, construction noise, human voices, television, neighbors, traffic, consumerism, to-do lists, students, work, and mindless human interactions. And I was facing a challenge: how far could my two legs take me? I realized that I’ve never challenged myself to this before. I’ve run (er, walked) my hometown Bloomsday Race, which is nearly 8 miles, and have been hiking on my local Mohawk Hudson Bike Trail up to two hours (with no water or breaks) for the last year, but this was different.
My first white blaze ever.
I charted a path on the maps the night before which would follow the Pine Cobble trail about four miles before reaching the Long Trail on the Vermont/Massachusetts border. Then another four miles, past the Seth Warner Shelter on to Country Road, the next place I could park my Jeep for the next section hike. I climbed East Mountain to Eph’s Lookout and made it to the Appalachian Trail (AT) and saw my first white blaze, which signifies both the AT and the Long Trail.
Because of my experience of my ex pushing me into following along on his interests, and experiences where men seem to generally default in taking the lead in activities: picking locations, restaurants, making plans, having experience, knowledge, and so on, it is very important for me to have adventures alone: where I am in charge of every detail, for better or worse. Instead of having a man take care of the overall plans, I want to learn to figure out things for myself and to pay attention to detail. To learn quickly. I also want to bask in the glory of accomplishment in facing a challenge that I wasn’t sure I could handle. For this inaugural Long Trail hike, I was about to walk twice as long as I have ever walked in my life. What if I reached Country Road, but couldn’t make it all the way back? But then again, I didn’t leave myself a choice. I had to make it back.
I saw about twelve people on the trail, many with big packs who may be thru-hiking on the Long Trail or the AP. Local people came out towards the end of the day and hugged the entrance of the trail closely. I saw two lone women hikers, which warmed my heart. One male-female couple who were just exploring the edges, and the rest were men, mostly solo, maybe one or two pairs. I greeted them all, but only spoke to two of them, and both of them were asking me for directions! The first guy, Josh, said he had taken a month off work to thru-hike the Long Trail. His gear looked shiny and new. I imagined him to be an office worker. It was Day One for him, but after hiking eight miles, he was beat and desperately seeking the first shelter, Seth Warner. He was looking at both his trail book and his iPhone map, but couldn’t locate the structure. I was able to pull out my superior map and direct him precisely to the shelter, impressing myself, greatly! He was ready to get to the shelter, “eat so much food, and veg hard.” I had just hiked the same eight miles as he had, but was now turning around and heading straight back for another 8 miles, with only two brief 10 minute rests on the entire trip! How was he going to make it through tomorrow, let alone the whole month? I was impressed I could compete with someone who was attempting such a long thru-hike. I felt great, as if I could keep going forever, and just wanted to keep putting one step in front of the other, rather than taking breaks. To turn around after eight miles and four hours and think I had to go back just as far was intimidating. Yet on the return trip, I felt like an old pro, I knew the trail now, hit the landmarks I remembered, and it was somehow a much shorter journey, because of this knowledge. As a solo hiker I also realized that if I wanted to hike much of this trail, I would also be doing it twice, once up and back, because of car parking issues, unless I get rides in the future. On top of it, it was day 40 of my raw vegan challenge, so my bag was backed with trail mix, bars, dried fruits, and other treats that fueled me. Overall, I was impressed with the incredible confidence boost that this outing provided. I set new records for longest walk ever (the previous record was set months ago after spending an entire day walking around all the sites of Rome, Italy.) I enjoyed the experience more than I ever have before. (After the history with the ex of throughly not enjoying similar outings, I guess that was the company and not the event). And I was capable at it, even offering directions to other serious thru-hikers. Hopefully, this will be a journey that continues, and not a one-off adventure.
East Mountain, Eph’s Lookout, Massachusetts.
Hike 2: Country Road to Congdon Shelter. Division 1. Trail milage 3-10. Total hike 18 1/2 miles. [photos]
Finding my way down the unpaved Country Road from Stamford, Vermont to the small parking lot I had seen on my first hike was a challenge in itself, but I came across the wide spot in the road that I remembered and would be the only Jeep to find such a hidden space for cars, startling hikers. As soon as I entered the trail, just north of the Seth Warner Shelter, I could hear two men, well, one in particular, talking loudly not far behind, a disappointment from my desired escape from loud talking men. We overlapped and ran into each other several times. One, the big talker, was a local, who had attached himself to Damien, a thru-hiker on the AP, coming from Georgia. “How is it to hike without poles,” Damien asked.
“I don’t know what I’m missing.” I replied. Gear is one of the biggest conversational pieces among hikers, it seems. As a sociologist, my interest is in the area of subcultures, how they are established and policed, how hierarchies are created, and the distinction between serious members and the wannabes. Thru-hikers seem to be at the top of the pile, with knowledge, experience and gear being the important cultural capital of the scene. There were more people on the trail, thru-hikers for both the AP and the Long Trail. Single men, male-female couples, a pair of two women, everyone white. I spoke with one AP thru-hiker briefly, his trail name G-Bear, and he asked for my trail name, the first that I’ve encountered this subcultural phenomenon. One doesn’t name themselves, however, it has to come from another and be related to one’s experience on the trail. Nicknames from one’s other lives won’t do. I passed Consultation Peak, one of the points where I could turn back, but I decided to push on through to the Congdon Shelter.
Beaver pond, walking on makeshift board bridge over swampy land.
I was soon joined by another AP thru-hiker, with the trail name Snaus, who had been on the trail for months. We fell into an easy pace and got to know each other. He was a college student, majoring in Sociology and Criminal Justice, who had switched from wanting to join the Marines to the Peace Corps. He was raised in a military environment but was questioning the war machine and leaning towards peace, “I want to help people, not go to other countries and kill them.” He was friendly and outgoing, with more tips on gear and encouraging me to get a tent and do longer stretches on the trail. At one point, he said I could feel how heavy his pack was, and I decided to put it on and carry it for the next stretch, just to see how it feels to hike with 30 pounds on my back. When we entered the Congdon Shelter area, G-Bear was waiting for him, and he had quite the laugh at me carrying Snaus’ big pack, while Snaus carried my tiny day pack. “I hope he’s paying you,” G-Bear said and shook his head.
This was the first shelter I’ve seen in my life. It had four wooden bunks, big enough to fit two people on each shelf, with a picnic table in the shelter as well. G-Bear and Snaus got to work cooking their Ramen noodles on their hiking stoves and I watched Snaus set up his tent, as I admitted I’ve never set up a tent in my life. He suggested types of tents and sleeping bags to get for space and weight efficiency. Quite a few other people were setting up camp this afternoon, and all of them knew each other and had been keeping pace for a long time. Snaus knew that other people were back on the trail and would be arriving to this space shortly, so everyone grabbed their space and set up for the night. I had a meal and spent an hour with them, chatting about their adventures and soaking up all the tips and advice.
Snaus had me go through his food bag to see what they ate on the trail: Slim Jims, dehydrated foods, bars, more Ramen. He said back home in college he had been vegan and looked forward to going back to his vegan ways, because he felt he was eating unhealthy on the trail. But of course, it’s not like one can pack a salad for the hike, nor pretty much any vegetables nor produce, it appeared. And even for those stays in towns, they talked about the big burgers they filled up on, not salad. Protein and calories were of the essence. But still being on my raw vegan challenge (day 44), I waved off G-Bear’s offer of Gold Fish snacks and shook my head at the content of Snaus’ bag. I don’t want to eat like that. But of course, not being on the trail overnight, I don’t have to. It’s just when they start packing food for the next seven days that portability and weight are the big factors. Still, I went home and looked up vegan hiker videos for ideas about how it could be otherwise. Although I understand the challenge of travel and hiking limitations restricting one’s diet. After all, I will be ending my raw vegan challenge as soon as I get on the plane for Vienna in two weeks, not even wanting to deal with such a restricted diet in such a restricted airport zone. But still, eating cooked vegan food will provide me with a plethora of opportunities that I have not experienced in about three months. I don’t need to totally fall off the wagon.
Snaus setting up camp.
By 4pm, I had to head back: I still had over 7 miles to walk back to my car and about four hours of daylight in which to do it. Back to my solitude after the unexpected social gathering. My first time really hanging out with other hikers and hearing more of their stories in depth, and seeing their lifestyles and gear used at the shelter. G-Bear was a former military member in Ireland and I asked him why it seemed that thru-hikers had higher status. “It’s not that,” he said, “it’s just more of a challenge.” But it’s something to work up to. One can’t just get on the AP trail and start walking. Legs need time to adjust and prepare for such a strenuous event. After my first hike, I needed a good break. And after this one, I’ll need another. The hike back was all business, just getting back before dark, passing the landmarks that had been such a struggle to achieve, in reverse. Passing two mountain peaks and two impassable roads and two hikers setting up camp for the night. One was setting up his tent right on the trail, and seemed miffed that I was walking right through his campsite and was mumbling something off-putting as I walked passed, wondering about the etiquette of camping right on the trail. For the last hour I was waiting for the image of my Jeep to pop up on the trail. I heard at the shelter that many hikers had commented on my Jeep, Snaus quoted the two women hikers who had raved about the Jeep, saying, “we didn’t even see a road there, but all of a sudden, we saw a Jeep.” I liked that.
It was a long day. I had started on the trail at 11am, after a two-hour drive to get to the starting point. Now it was 8pm when I was getting back to my Jeep, with another long drive through Stamford, Vermont, up to Route 9 and back through Bennington. I’m sure quickly, having a tent for an overnight will make more sense, as I gain more experience, and as the distance between parking spots lengthens.
Hike 3. Congdon Shelter to Route 9. Division 1. Trail milage 10-14.4. Total miles hiked 8.8.
June 21 was my third hike on the Long Trail, a nice sunny day, but not too hot, with a high of around 80 degrees. I parked on Route 9, the busiest road intersecting the trail and took the steep rock staircase climb up to the viewpoint on Harmon Hill, where there was a registry attracting hikers to take a break and check up on their trail buddies. The hike flattened out to the usual leisurely walk through the covered woods and then a slight descent to the shelter where I had been last time, still my first shelter that I’ve seen. I stopped there for lunch and there were three folks just closing camp, while other hikers showed up out of the woods and joined me for lunch at the shelter. There was Clementine, a thru-hiker on the AT, who had started March 26 on his journey. He’s originally from Ohio, but moving to Oregon for graduate school in water management in the fall. There was Dave, a section hiker on the AT, who was out for three weeks on this leg, the longest he’s ever hiked, but he has the freedom on his schedule to see how it goes and continue on for as long as he can. Dave was an older guy with primitive black tattoos, a spider web and spiders on his arm. There was Will, an older man with white hair doing the Long Trail in weekly sections. A father and son showed up and talked about the partiers at last night’s shelter, that was too near the road, thus attracting this element. They were on the trail for about a week, when they would be picked up by the wife. Two women and an Asian guy packed up their camp and walked out, even with a dog in tow. It was the first time I saw a person of color on the hike, and just before, I had been wondering how long it would take. I ran into people on the trail, seemingly becoming more populous now. I saw only one single woman thru-hiker, and I realized that the long women that I see and am impressed by, might be there with the single men that I encounter further up the trail. Even though it was more of an easy day on the trail, it was still exhausting and tough, and made me worry about the upcoming sections where I might be hard pressed to find parking spots within a day’s hike of one another. But somehow, this is part of the thrill and challenge.
Harmon Hill view
Hike 4. Route 9 to Little Pond Lookout. Division 2. Trail milage 14.4-20. Total miles hiked 12.
William McArthur Bridge
entry onto the trail from Route 9 was nice, with the finest bathroom one can find in the woods on the trail head, complete with toilet paper. And then the William McArthur bridge takes you across the little river and into the forest, with a more gentle incline uphill compared against the entry directly south of Route 9, with the brutal rocky incline. This may be the nicest stretch of the trail I have encountered so far, where the entry was the biggest incline and the rest was a walk on the mountain ridge, between two lookout points, Porcupine and Little Pond, both of which provide green mountain views through peek holes through the trees. I saw maybe twenty people on the trails today, all with big packs, AT and LT thru-hikers and long distance section hikers. Two older men were spending two weeks on the LT. I lunched with two AT thru-hikers, 6-Legs and Big-
Saw very camouflaged frogs of different colors
O. It was 6-Legs’ birthday, he was thirty two. His trail name came from the fact that he had a dog with him, packing dog food was his biggest weight to carry. I saw another dog later, so three total on the trail. He had quit his job in insurance to hike for month, he started in Virginia on April 15th. After this trail, he was going to move out west, which he defined liberally (including Denver), and he wants to work in a nature oriented industry. Big-O was the second Asian guy I saw on the trail. We had lunch together on the Little Pond Lookout before they headed on the trail, where they hoped to be in Manchester in another day or two. Soon after, I saw the first black woman on the trail, solo. The walk back became warmer and I was tired, even though the temperature wasn’t suppose to be much above eighty today. I stopped at the shelter 1.4 miles north of Route 9 and it was peacefully off the trail and deserted, so I had the place to myself. The descent was more difficult than the assent, and I was annoyed and tired, wondering why I was putting myself through this Long Trail journey, which seemed impossible in my condition of being alone and dependent on car parking, and having to do the trail twice, once up and once back, unwilling to spend the night and carry gear. It would be impossible to compete at this point, or it would take years. I didn’t find the connector trail to Little Pond, which I was counting on for my next parking spot. I basically decided to give up on hiking The Long Trail completely, and to focus on other more doable trails, preferably loops. After getting to my car at 3:30, after starting at 7:15am, I was exhausted. But I still drove to Little Pond, with hopes of maybe finding that connector trail. Instead, I found a fun jeep road, which got some good mud on the jeep and was fun for me. Maybe I’ll switch to the day hiking Vermont book and focus on some mountain peak day hikes instead.
Little Pond Lookout