Summer Stories Series: The Long Trail
While most left Claremont last May grateful to get some much needed R&R or ready to intern for pennies an hour at a 9-5, I prepared to do something completely different. I was about to get to know my great state of Vermont on a much more intimate level than ever before. I was about to hike The Long Trail. The Long Trail is the first long distance trail made in the United States; it is a 273 mile footpath that goes from the Canadian border to Massachusetts border through the entire length of Vermont. The Appalachian
Trail shares 105 miles with the Long Trail before it splits and heads to New Hampshire.
Last October I made it a priority to hike the entire Long Trail. I spent months trying to recruit people to come with me; I got a lot of initial takers who flaked out as summer approached. Around March I began to get discouraged, until one day I was Skyping with Momma Beckett and she mentioned my brother was talking about doing a Long Trail hike. I immediately called him up and soon it was settled, he graduated from Vassar College on the 23rd, and 4 days later we hit the trail.
As we got ready to leave the house, bags packed, boots tied, and our mom asking questions like “Did you remember a flashlight? How about a raincoat?” the excitement built. We were really doing it.
The first day was a long one--what was supposed to be a 12 mile day turned to 14 after getting lost and climbing up a ski trail on one of Vermont’s biggest mountains...twice. My hardest day of the whole trip came right after on day two. Climbing up Haystack Mountain with more than 3 weeks ahead, bugs that would not let up, mud everywhere, toes crunched by my boots and muscles that were not yet used to morning till dusk activity, I seriously questioned my ability to take on this challenge. Then something amazing happened: 30 minutes later, after we had stopped moving and eaten our daily quinoa dinner, I felt great. The pain and distress from before had completely vanished, I was happy with my day’s work, and from our shelter we had a view of the sun setting over the mountains.
By days four and five the trail seemed a million times more doable. Our first week ended with a monumental 16.1 mile day that tested our physical limits. It put us through some ski mountains, and up and over Vermont's tallest mountain, Mt. Mansfield. We hit the shelter that night and found company for the first time, two brothers from southern Vermont who were going the other direction. We all climbed up a boulder behind the shelter and looked down on the lights of Burlington as we smoked some of their maple smoked tobacco. I remember being completely content with everything about that moment.
Week Two wasn’t as noteworthy as week one, but we saw many awesome views and met some great characters. We shared a shelter one night with a bunch of boys from Ithaca who were hiking the trail luxury style. They packed raw ingredients and made delicacies like bread, perogies, and calzones. My brother and I nibbled our trail mix and fixed our nightly quinoa with more than a hint of jealousy. To some those extra 10 pounds of weight are worth it, to some they are not.
As days went by we could feel ourselves getting faster and stronger. The second week ended with a 20 mile day from our shelter to an inn right off the trail. Until you are deprived of the basics, you really don't. That night we ate the best burgers ever made, listened to an adorable old man sing Irish folk songs, and got much needed showers.
There came a time when we knew we had our “trail legs” and we sat down for a snack and couldn’t remember if we had been going up, down, or flat for the previous hour and a half. We stayed in a warming hut on top of a ski mountain on a clear night. At the hut there was a fire tower where we ate dinner, watched the sunset, and later star-gazed. We realized the trail was soon coming to an end, and found that we had mixed feelings. It would be great to finish, but then we would have to go back to real life and all that it entails. On our last night we shared a shelter with a couple of hikers. They were the first we had met that were thru-hiking and had started in Georgia last February. Here we were feeling bad-ass for the 260 miles under our belts, and these guys were at their 1600 mile mark. They had huge scruffy beards, and their once white shirts were now a yellow and brown tie-dye of dirt and sweat. I couldn’t decide if I was repulsed by them or if I wanted to be them. Hitting the border the next day was one of the proudest moments of my life; there is nothing like completing a long set goal. We got to the bottom of the side trail, hitchhiked into town and waited for our ride home.
The trail definitely took a toll on my body, I finished the trail with six fewer toenails (note: having the right size boots is important), a bacterial infection in my leg, two shot knees, and bruises from head to toe. The hiker lifestyle really has something to it; for three and a half weeks our only responsibility was to put one foot in front of the other over and over again, and that kind of freedom is worth the physical price you pay.We got to see breathtaking views every day, physically exhaust our bodies and capitalize on an opportunity to mentally relax for an extended period of time, not to mention meet incredibly unique characters all along the way.
Even if long distance hiking just isn’t your thing, spend some quality one-on-one time with your siblings. I’m closer to my brother than ever before, and I don’t think we could have ever gotten our relationship to such a good point without this shared experience.
A trip like this puts things into perspective and makes you realize all that you really need you can strap to your back. Maybe it’s just the crunchy-granola Vermonter in me, but there really is something to living in the woods and the beauty you find in a shelf mushroom or a perfect spider web. If you have never considered a long distance hike, I would highly recommend it. Without a doubt there are long distance trails in both mine and my brother’s futures. Pacific Crest Trail, here we come.