Exciting Long Trail News!

After years of reading about it but never living it I’d about given up on the dream. Then, totally unplanned and unexpectedly, there is was! We can’t always make our dreams come true I guess. Sometimes they come true though anyway!

LT Day 4 and 5

LT Day 4 and 5

1.5 LT miles, 6 mile road walk, 20 mile hitch, 9 mile shuttle

I got an early start in hopes of either putting in some long miles or a shorter day ending early depending on how the climb up Haystack went. It soon became clear that Monday had done more damage to my body than I realized. Any sort of climbing was a struggle and by the time I reached the road in Hazen’s Notch I knew it was time to sit down for some hard thinking. Going up Haystack seemed sure to make things get ugly fast so the prudent thing seemed to be to get off trail to regroup.

As road walks go the six miles or so down RT 58 to RT 100 were beautiful. No one stopped to offer a ride but traffic was sparse and it was a nice morning in the shade.

Rather than focus on my troubles I opted to try to enjoy how pretty of a place I was walking through. There were a few dog encounters along the way, a German Shepherd that looked like it might have been abandoned threatened me for a while until a voice in the woods called him home. Another two big dogs followed me, barking at my heels, for a good quarter mile.

Still it was such a pretty place it was a walk to be appreciated. Various streams and brooks ran under the road in both directions.

Eventually I reached the highway and realized that I needed to figure out my next goal. Heading down to Johnson to pick up my resupply seemed logical since food was running low, so I stuck out my thumb. Once that was accomplished I talked to my wife a bit and decided to find a place to stay to either recuperate or wait for a ride home. Smugglers Notch to the rescue!

Dinner, beer and breakfast are behind me and I am still feeling a bit broken. I am coming to terms with the fact that this hike is over before it really got started. There has been some cussing and a few tears, but to keep going at this point seems foolish and probably dangerous to my health.

As much as I regret the way this turned out I am glad I tried to chase the dream. For an old fat man this was an ambitious challenge to begin with, but no one could anticipate tropical weather in VT at this time of year. With my aversion to hiking in the heat I planned to start this late in hopes of much cooler weather.

Will I try again? No, probably not. Putting my family through all of this again seems unfair. I also have to acknowledge that the universe seems to be trying to tell me something.

Still, no regrets! Not sure what crazy dream will come to me next, but I will keep chasing them, you can be sure. Thanks for coming along on this adventure and I apologize for not being able to share the rest of this beautiful trail with you.

LT Days 2 and 3 Hazen’s Notch

8.7 LT miles

Day two started with the climb up to Jay Peak. Looking up at the ski buildings was a bit intimidating but the climb actually wasn’t too bad.

Nice views up there in all directions. I was sorry I didn’t have time to stay longer until I met a big school group headed up the other side.

I stopped at Jay Camp near the bottom for water and potato soup for elevensies. Then came a series of climbs that took me over three mountains on my way to Hazen’s Notch. Not sure how hot it was but it was way too hot to be climbing mountains. The last big climb up Buchanan did me in.

The last two miles to camp were quite a struggle as my stomach was angry and not afraid to show it. I arrived in camp just before dark in pretty ugly shape. Getting the hammock up was all I could manage before collapsing. Then it started to rain hehe. I managed to sort of string the tarp over me, but didn’t have the strength to stake it out.

Knowing from past experience that hiking today would only serve to anger my stomach I opted to stay here today to see if I can recover. I hung out the wet clothes and even staked out the tarp.

The shelter here is a classic and smells like one inside heh.

There is a nice view of Jay Peak from just outside the door. Considering I came up the other side and all the way here on a hot, breezeless day certainly explains my body falling apart.

Tomorrow will tell me a lot once I hit that first climb. The weather has improved with cooler temps and a nice breeze so that will help. Hopefully yesterday didn’t do too much damage, but it certainly has given me some doubts.

LT Day 1: Laura Woodward

8.6 LT miles plus about .5 on the approach

Back at the border just after dawn. Expecting it to warm up I skipped coffee but was amped to get started.

The first white blaze! Now these steps counted heh. So hard to believe it was real, but once I started to sweat it didn’t feel like a dream.

I stopped at Shooting Star shelter for elevensies and found this bunny house.

Then it was time to start the first real climb, Doll Peak. Too sweaty to take pics, sorry.

Drying out with a nice breeze in the hammock at the Laura Woodward shelter.

There are two NOBO hikers in there chattering away. They are very excited about finishing tomorrow. I am excited about dinner, gotta go!

LT Day 0:Journeys Rest

We got an early start on the drive and were almost to Canada by lunch. After a short break for trailhead sandwiches we walked the approach trail the rest of the way to the border.

Surprisingly warm for the time of year, but I will take that over rain any day. Going to be warm again tomorrow so I am hoping for an early start.

Not giggling yet as I have a roommate here, but that may not stop me for long. Totally amazed to find myself in this place and on the edge of such a grand adventure.

Tomorrow it will begin for real as hard as that is to believe. I am ready!!

LT Day -1: Antici…pation!

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I’ve been keeping it quiet, but the excitement has been building as the time draws closer. The Long Trail is on! In the morning I’ll head up to Journey’s End to spend the night, probably giggling, before starting southbound on the trail on Sunday. My ride home is scheduled for about a month later, so I’ll be in no hurry. Hoping to have enough contact with the world to post a bit along the way. Should be a very pretty trip if the leaves and weather cooperate.

Those who have been reading for a while know that I’ve been trying to do this trip for years. It started as an impossibility, then matured into a full fledged pipe dream. That is where it stayed for the last couple of years with something always preventing me from getting out there. Hopefully all of that was meant to put me out there at the right time. I’ll be finding out soon enough and will let you know how it turns out 🙂

The Long Trail Gets Away Again

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Chittenden Brook near the LT in Vermont

Saturday was supposed to be the start of a four week SOBO adventure on Vermont’s Long Trail. For those who’ve been reading since the start you know I’ve been wanting to do this forever and each year start out thinking this might be the year. Usually by mid Summer I’ve either hiked myself into an injury or had family commitments come up that force me to say “Maybe next year.” This year was different.

When I injured my hip on the June AT trip I walked my way through the recovery keeping my legs strong and discovering that the hip felt better the more it was used. The support I had from my family was amazing and despite some issues with our car my wife was practically pushing me out the door because after all these years she was as tired of me not going as I was.

Things were looking so positive I began to stockpile food and was putting mail drops together in between trips to make sure the legs were primed for the trail. Last week, with the start of the trip only ten days off, things fell apart. I mean literally fell apart, as on the return from a Speck Pond overnighter the rear tire on my motorcycle failed spectacularly. Thankfully I was able to get it off the road safely and even was lucky enough to be near a house full of friendly farm folk who let me use their phone to try to find some help for the bike. Alas, in the far reaches of Maine, help is hard to find. I ended up paying a small fortune to have the bike towed home.

If this unexpected expense was my only issue I’d probably suck it up and chase my dreams, but it really is more the last straw on a tall pile of reasons to call the trip off. Our car, the one the girls would have to use to drop me off and pick me up on either end of VT is circling the drain. After having been stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere its the last thing I’d wish on them. There are a few other things going on as well that had me hesitant about abandoning my post here at home for so long. My wife being so supportive doesn’t make it any easier 🙂 A woman who loves you enough to tell you to go is worth staying home to spend time with!

So here we are again another year later and the same sad story. Fall will come to Vermont without me once again. I’d say “Maybe next year.” but at this point I’m not sure I can say it with much conviction.  For now I’ll focus on what is possible rather than what is not. I’ll get to spend more time watching my daughter start kindergarten. My wife will have some help raking the leaves that will start to fall soon enough. Who knows? I might even sneak out to visit a mountain or three. Besides, with the lack of rain this year the leaves will just turn brown and fall off, but next year…

June Updates Including New Gear Reviews

Busy season is in full swing as evidenced by the lax posting schedule here.  Time trial season on the bike, lots of dehydrating to get a surplus of meals stashed away and even a bit of hiking now and again plus of course the joys of summer yard work and child rearing have my schedule pretty much filled.  I had a feeling this was going to happen so I’ve gotten over it…hope you all are too busy having fun to notice.

I’ve updated the Gear Review page with some recent entries over at Trailspace.  Continuing my theme of more obscure items the updates include some dry whole milk, some poly bags for carrying liquids and a beeswax based leather treatment. Coming reviews include some tiny liquid containers, some ultra light trail running/approach shoes and some summer weight hiking socks, but let’s be honest, those probably won’t be posted for a while heh.

It has been rough scheduling actual trail miles so far this year.  We still have hopes for a few night family trip next week up to Baxter.  Low miles and easy terrain but I’m willing to put up with that if it means a few days of family time in the great outdoors with the only distractions being swarms of murderous black flies and beautiful views.

After that I’m thinking I’d better start getting some ugly miles in if I’m really going to do the LT come fall.  I have some folks coming up for a more strenuous Baxter loop in late July but trying to squeeze either a Grafton or Pemi loop in first.  Going to need all the climbing practice I can get.

Never seems to be enough time and that is because there really isn’t.  That is also what makes it so precious.  This time of year any time not spent out there enjoying it seems a bit wasted.  I have plenty of plans ready though so when a chance comes you can be sure I’ll be on my way.  Get out there yourself if you can find the time and a path less traveled by

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Journeys Begin With Single Steps

There is that singular moment when the pre-trip ends and the actual trip begins.  It doesn’t matter if it is your first trip or you are a seasoned adventurer.  In that moment you are setting off like a ship loosening its last mooring line.  That which holds you to the rigid world is let go.  Motion is barely begun, but at last it has begun!

If you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about.  You’ve laced your boots, set your poles, donned your pack, patted your pockets one last time and then you take that first real step onto the trail.  All of the preparation is behind you and finally all of the waiting is done.  What lies ahead is unknown other than the opportunities to enjoy Nature, your companions and life itself.

Often I’ve found these moments to be unappreciated in the hurry to get moving and head down the trail.  The focus is on getting going, getting there, go, go go!  In thinking about the trips I hope to soon be on I’ve been focusing a lot on these moments of leaving off.  Mostly because I yearn so strongly for it to be time to go as I sit here waiting for the mud to dry a bit more, but also because this year I want to redouble my efforts to really exist in those moments when they are actually happening.

That first day on the trail seems very different from subsequent days, but really it is me that becomes different.  Usually by day two, especially on solo trips, I will have settled into a peaceful and quiet happiness that allows me to soak in the world around me.  It is those first hours that seem less real when I look back because the nervous excitement, the exuberance and joy of being there seems to overwhelm the ability to perceive it in ways that can be preserved well.

Part of the reason I’ve been thinking along these lines is the Long Trail trip in September that now looms over the rest of my Summer.  That trip is quite different from anything else I’ve done in terms of backpacking or anything else in my life for that matter.   Just as all my other trips this year will be physical training for that one I want them to be mental training as well.  In that moment of taking that first step I want to be able to casually loosen that last line and peacefully float off down the trail.  Well as much as one can float with three weeks of provisions on their back at least.

Everything needs a little break in period.  Lately I’ve been loading up the big Kelty external pack with my wife’s kettlebells to create a 50lb load.  There are some new SmartWool socks I’ve been introducing to my boots to make sure they will all get along.  The mind is just another part of our equipment when we hit the trail so it makes sense to put a little effort into make sure it is ready too.  If we can come prepared in mind, body, spirit, equipment and most importantly cookies then our first steps will be good ones on the path less traveled by

IMG_1326aLooking up from the start of the Saddle Trail scramble in Baxter State Park

Easier Read Than Done

“…bear west around the forbidding south wall of the summit cone, climb the exposed west face and arrive at the summit…” -GMC Long Trail Guide

Since acquiring the Long Trail map and guide books from the Green Mountain Club I’ve been taking a relaxed tour of the the trail by reading through the descriptions with the map by my side.  Rather than race though the book as fast as possible I’ve limited myself to small sections of reading at a time.  Sort of like how one hikes a long trail, day by day rather than all in one go.

The level of detail in the guide is amazing with small terrain features described in terms that must be Vermontish because they seem unfamiliar to me though they seem clear in context.  Despite taking the time to mention tiny details there are other areas that seem to have nothing worth mentioning based on what made it to the page.  I’m hopeful the details will get me through the parts of the trail that are hard to follow and the sections that don’t warrant detailed mention are the parts where the trail is clear.  Always good to have hope on an adventure like this but a good waterproof map, a compass and the knowledge to use them are a good idea too.

Having studied the trail a bit over the last few years seeing it from this new perspective is interesting.   I’ve read as many trail journals as I could find and have looked at various maps.  Online topo maps can give a detailed view of a very small area but only so far as elevation lines can tell a story.  Trip reports give personal accounts of parts of the trail that were special to that person.  The guide seems to combine technical and human perspectives by giving terrain descriptions in human terms rather than just lines.  I have a feeling these descriptions will be key to staying on trail at times especially in the wilderness areas where it is less cleared and marked.

From trip reports certain pointy bits of the trail stick out as especially challenging.  In the context of an entire trail journal you can tell when a writer is talking about the times that thrilled or scared them a bit more than usual.  How we face those challenges is often what drives us to climb these mountains.  So when the guide book comes to these spots it seems oddly understated.   It uses human terms to describe the trail, but without the human emotion one expects after reading trip reports.

The quote at the top of this post is one of those that caught my eye.  The words are so simple and direct, “…bear west…climb…and arrive at the summit”.  My eyes traveled over those words in the book and then my mind said “Wait!  That sounds like it might be easier read than done.”  It made me think about how many other parts of the trail the book might be describing in simpler terms than reality might bear out.

We can research and plan, but what really matters is what happens when we get there.  A guide book is certainly valuable, but it is only a tool for us to use.  More information helps us make wise choices, but a book printed three years ago can’t decide if the trail ahead is safe today.

I still have about a hundred miles of trail to read through in the guide.  Following the trail northbound some of the roughest terrain remains.  Of course by this time my pack will be twenty pounds or more lighter so I’m not too afraid of those remaining peaks.  I will of course be careful not to let the guide lull me into a sense of security with its minimalist descriptions.  I’ve seen enough pictures and videos to know that no matter what the book says this part of the trail has some treachery to it.  I guess I’ll just have to go slow and keep my wits about me in hopes of not falling off the path less traveled by

IMG_2017Not Vermont