20.7 miles, 1622.4 overall (Stealth camp)
When I wake up I don’t hear anybody else moving. I pack up, break down the tent, retrieve my food, and eat breakfast. By the time I’m ready to leave just after 7 some others are stirring and a couple are even outside of their tents but nobody will be close behind me today. I want to get a few miles done early because I know the slack packing group was heading for route 9 yesterday and will put back in there today sometime around mid morning. I’d like to be ahead of them so I can see them again. However I quickly find that I’m hiking slowly today. By the time I reach route 9 only 4.3 miles away it is already 9:00, meaning I’m hiking close to 2 mph. I take a quick break to eat a snack, hoping I just needed to warm up this morning. It was an especially cold morning compared to what I’ve experienced for the last month. Last night I even had to zip up the sleeping bag!
After my break I reach the footbridge to cross the stream at route 9. I see a note to the side of the trail and expect it to be a simple note from one hiker to another, but when I read it it is trail magic! Someone put beers in the stream! I stand on the footbridge looking for them but alas, they must all have been taken because I can’t see them. However across the bridge I spot a cooler and when I get there a few sodas remain inside – score! I take another break to drink a soda before the upcoming climb.
The trail in Vermont has been pretty so far. The state is often called Vermud by hikers and I can see why since I frequently pass areas that clearly become mud pits when it rains. However it hasn’t rained yet and when dry the trail is good. There are a lot of rocks and roots, but nothing that isn’t manageable. Some interesting features have begun popping up though. Lots of trees seem to grow along the ground across the trail before bending upward toward the sky, and others have weird twists and turns in their trunks. Since we are getting further north the climate and geology are changing and there are more conifers, especially above 3000 feet. And that in itself is a change – we haven’t been above 3000 feet for any length of time since probably Virginia. Today I spend approximately half the day at this altitude.
I remembered to put my earbuds in my pocket today so on the way up the climb after drinking my soda I listen to more of the Count of Monte Cristo. I get through several chapters and it makes the miles go by pretty quickly until I stop for a late lunch at a nice log alongside the trail. I take my time eating and I try to get some cell service to download some news and email but it looks like Vermont is going to be bad for cell service.
When I get moving again I decide to switch to music to try to help me pick up the pace. It is around 2:00 and I’ve still only gone about 11 miles. I put my songs on shuffle, looking for some eligible candidates to add to a playlist I want to make of songs that I could picture using in a video montage of the last month of my hike. Since it is on shuffle though I get a variety and I do wind up hiking faster. In about an hour I have reached the next shelter 14 miles from where I started this morning.
At the shelter I meet some overnight hikers. I stop to fill up on some water at a beautiful piped spring and to get a snack. While I’m there I meet Mellow Steve who catches up from behind. I passed him earlier and had pegged him as a Long Trail or overnight hiker. He actually started on the AT in PA and is simply a slow hiker who wears a bug net over his head.
Although this shelter is pretty and has an excellent view I feel the desire to push on. I am considering getting to Manchester Center tomorrow instead of the day after but to do that I need to do around 20 today. Besides, it is still early and if nothing else I can leave myself fewer miles to hike the next two days. I hike up a quarter mile past the shelter to the fire tower, passing some lovely camping spots that I briefly consider stopping for.
At the lookout tower I head up for a view and I’m not disappointed. In the distance in almost all directions I can see mountains again for the first time in a while. Instead of ridges I see distinct mountains with definitive summits overlapping each other as they fade to the horizon. I also see that we are no longer hiking through thin corridors between towns but rather have returned to the wilderness. This view reminds me of the Nantahala in North Carolina for both reasons and it makes me excited for the Whites in NH and the wilderness of Maine.
A few more downhill miles and I reach the next shelter. This one is worse than the last. I had hoped there would be some good tent spots but I only see one and it isn’t incredibly appealing. There are two hikers at the shelter but neither are AT thru-hikers. There is a good view, but not good enough to make me stick around. It is getting late to make it to the next shelter. It is only 4.6 miles away but it is already 5:30 and I don’t like to hike much past 6. I decide to push on and stealth camp somewhere.
I pick up some water at a stream since I will probably have to dry camp tonight. Then I set about looking for spots just off the trail. I see one right next to the trail but it isn’t very appealing so I decide to keep going. After another 10 minutes I start to wonder if I made the right decision. After 20 minutes I am just starting to curse at myself for passing up a decent spot when the trail seems to branch in two directions. I look up and realize one of the branches is actually a campsite! It isn’t incredibly well-defined, but it is a nice little clearing with plenty of space and some flattish spots. It is also in a nice grove of pine trees, making for a pleasant atmosphere. I have found my spot for the night. I set up my tent, throw my bear line, and start working on dinner.
While I’m cooking I’m surprised to hear another hiker approaching. When he arrives I see it is Jihad. I’m surprised to see him since he and his two friends were slack packing over Greylock the day I got off for my zeroes. Turns out Jihad caught Lyme disease and had to get off trail to find a doctor. He hangs out with me for a while waiting to see if Easy Turtle and Tittie Sprinkles will catch up. Eventually they do, but by this time Jihad has decided to start on his dinner. This makes it easy for them to decide to join me for the night. Pretty soon we are all set up, fed, and heading to bed on the Appalachian Trail.