17.9 miles, 1640.3 overall (William B Douglas shelter)
In the morning I listen as the others get packed up. I hiked more miles than planned yesterday so that means I can take it easy today. I’ve already decided that it would be silly to try to get to Manchester Center today. It would make for a long day (around 25 miles) and at the end I wouldn’t have much time to find a hitch and then get resupplied. Instead I’ll stick to the original plan but now I can take my time and arrive early tomorrow. As such I’m in no hurry to get going this morning. Around 6:30 I start packing up and when I get out of my tent just before 7 everyone else is on their way out. I remain to eat my breakfast and pack the rest of my gear.
At 7:30 I get underway but I can already tell that I’m hiking slow again today. I don’t know when it happened but at some point in the last few hundred miles my typical pace changed from 3 mph to more like 2-2.5 mph. Unfortunately the change has not coincided with a greater tendency to look around while I hike and I still struggle to remind myself to take in my surroundings once in a while. Still, by the time I reach the next shelter a few miles away there are still hikers there who haven’t started hiking yet. I meet Whipporway and Shannon (no individual trail name yet) who are married and known together as the Lionkillers. Also at the shelter are Yellowtail and Sunroof who are late starters but typically hike late into the day.
I continue on downhill. The trail is unimpressive until a large brook where there are some obvious campsites. I somewhat wish I had hiked to this spot yesterday but that would have been too far. I wish these perfect campsites would occur more often when I’m ready to sleep for the night. I take the opportunity to get some water before moving on. I have a 2000 foot climb coming up and I want to be able to get up and over with no problem.
The trail actually goes out of its way to go over this mountain, but with good reason. The data book informs us that this is the mountain on which Benton Mackaye’s conceived of the idea of a trail connecting the Appalachian Mountains. I stop on the way up for a snack and find cell service, the first time in a while. It seems now that I’ve returned to the wilderness I’ve also returned to spotty cell coverage, so plan your blog reading accordingly! The Lionkillers and Yellowtail and Sunroof all pass while I’m stopped. I get going again soon after Sunroof though and I reach the summit just after him.
Stratton Mountain is the highest mountain in southern Vermont and has a lookout tower at the top as well as caretakers who answer questions. I drop my pack and ascend the tower which rewards me with another fabulous view of the surrounding area. In several directions ski resorts are etched into the sides of mountains. In others we can make out ponds and lakes. Back at the base of the tower I’m informed by a sign that before Benton Mackaye arrived here a man named James Taylor arrived first and had the idea of a trail stretching from Massachusetts to Canada. His idea became what is today the Long Trail, the oldest long distance hiking trail in the US. He apparently had this idea in 1909 before a tower was built on the summit. I discuss this finding with the Lionkillers who are eating lunch nearby. We decide that we’ve all lost a bit of esteem for Benton Mackaye who, although obviously crucial in forming the AT, did not have so original an idea as we thought. We picture James Taylor coming to the summit, sans tower, climbing a tree, and saying, “I’ve got an idea!” Twenty years later as the Long Trail is being built Benton Mackaye arrives, climbs the recently built tower, and exclaims, “I have a better idea!” I sit and eat lunch with the Lionkillers who seem to be a fun couple and I hope I get more time with them later. For now we pack up and head down the mountain.
The big climb of the day done, my thoughts turn to where I’m going to sleep tonight. I consider my options as I hike down the mountain. I had planned to stay at a campsite next to a pond just ahead but then I would be stopping around 3, far too early. I decide I will need to push on to another shelter, either 5 or 8 miles further. As I decide this I reach the pond and find a beautiful view in a perfectly swimmable location. At first I’m not interested in swimming, figuring it will be too much work, but as I take in the view and watch other hikers enter the water I’m persuaded to get in. The water turns out to be pleasantly cold. It takes a minute to get into but once in it is refreshing. I mostly stay in standing depth but take a few quick forays into deeper territory to float around. After about 10 minutes I get out and sit in the sun to dry off. My body is mostly dry in about 15 minutes and my swimsuit is only damp. After a bit more sitting and socializing I finally hike on.
The data book lists several streams after the pond. I hope that one of them has some picturesque campsites that I can enjoy for the night. Unfortunately the best stream is the last one and although it has a campsite it isn’t incredibly appealing. I decide to push on to a shelter.
Soon I reach the first of my two options. It is a half mile off the trail but it is only 5:30 and I won’t be in a hurry tomorrow so the extra distance doesn’t much bother me. As I’m about to make the turn Sunroof catches up. We briefly discuss how it has gotten darker and looks like rain. I predict that if it does rain it won’t last long. No sooner have we parted ways than it begins to sprinkle. I only have a half mile left so I pick up the pace and cover the distance in about 8 minutes, reaching the shelter just as the rain stops. It turns out my prediction was right.
At the shelter is another hiker named Trog who I have seen but haven’t met. He is eating dinner and deciding where to stay. As I set up my tent and fetch water he decides he will hike on and stealth camp tonight. Before he leaves though we talk a bit and I find out he is on his third thru-hike attempt. On his first he had 313 miles left before he hurt his back and on his second he had 70 miles left when the same thing happened. Although he has hiked the entire trail he hasn’t quite been able to do it all in one season. He makes me consider something I’ve thought about many times before – if I were unsuccessful on this thru-hike would I try again? It is hard to answer the question and I hope I don’t have to consider it as anything more than a hypothetical.
Trog moves on and I have the shelter to myself. I hang my food and climb in my tent, getting to sleep a little early. Tomorrow I can sleep in because, thanks to my longer-than-planned days today and yesterday, tomorrow will be a short day on the Appalachian Trail.