16.3 miles, 1662.4 overall (Stealth camp, Old Job trail intersection)
I don’t sleep as well as I should. I think the fact that I need to be up at a certain time to catch the shuttle has me nervous so I wake frequently, especially as 6:00 approaches. I finally get out of bed at 5:50 instead of waiting for my alarm at 6:00. I eat my bagel with peanut butter and pack my things. Then I head in to the house where everyone is up and getting ready. I eat my additional pie and yogurt, then find some coffee already brewed with nobody to drink it so I have a cup. By the time I’m done it is 7:00 and Jeff is back from the first shuttle to pick up myself and the Mules. A few minutes later we are at the trailhead and I’m heading back into the woods.
As I start up the trail I am feeling good. Ever since my double zero my Achilles tendons have been a little better. My knees feel good and I have a little more bounce in my step. Except for the balls of my feet which are starting to feel the effects from the lack of tread on the bottom of my shoes (new shoes waiting for me in Killington!) I’m feeling pretty good. I even discovered at Green Mountain House that my weight loss has stopped and I have actually gained back 2-3 pounds, no doubt due to recently reinstituting my tortilla lunches and hiking fewer miles.
On my way up the mountain I pass a mother/daughter Long Trail hiking pair who were at the pond I swam at two days ago. I say hi briefly before hiking on but I don’t get far. There is a view and when I stop for it I meet another Long Trail hiker. He is from Ohio and his excitement about being out here is evident. He is also excited because he just shipped home a bunch of stuff that he realized he didn’t need so now his pack is much lighter. He is enjoying the vista and asks me to take his picture. I oblige in exchange for a return of the favor. While we’re trading pictures the mother/daughter pair catches up and more pictures are had. When we finally get going again I lead the way followed by the daughter, then the Ohioan, and finally the mother.
From the view it is still several hundred vertical feet uphill to the top of Bromley Mountain. I expect to leave these hikers in my dust but to my surprise the daughter and the Ohioan keep up with me! I am a bit insulted by this. I have hiked 1600+ miles while they’ve hiked 70. I also have a trail name based on my uphill speed. Yet somehow these two noobs are keeping up with me? I know the thought is silly but I do speed up and put some distance between us for the sake of my pride.
Near the top of the mountain we emerge from the forest into a field that is actually a ski slope during the winter. We hike to the top of the slope and as we ascend I school the noobs by passing on a piece of advice I received near the start of the trail: every once in a while you should look back the way you came. When they turn around they are treated to a view for miles with a large valley on the right and mountains to the left. At the top of the slope is the ski lift and we pause to take in the 360 degree view. The mother catches up to us and points out Killington, our destination, in the distance.
On the way down the hikers aren’t as quick and I pull away. At the bottom of the mountain is a forest service road with a water pump. I take the opportunity to fill up and, not in any rush, stop for a break. Everyone goes by while I am stopped, but once I get going again I catch them at the next summit, Styles Peak, which affords another view.
Others stop for lunch here but it is early. I move on and in a few miles reach a shelter where I stop to have my tortilla with pepperoni and Monterey Jack cheese. While I am there 4 southbounders stop for lunch as well. It is the first time I have seen more than one Sobo at a time. I try not to ask questions about the trail ahead knowing that they will already have been pumped for information by other Nobos, preferring instead to let the hikers volunteer the info in the course of our conversation. I find the method successful, at least this time, and hope it is appreciated. I return the favor by giving a few pieces of advice on the trail ahead of them.
After lunch I take my time hiking. I have made a good pace this morning and my target destination isn’t too far ahead. I am not exactly sure what my destination is except that I want to get at least 16 miles in. There are several shelters and tent sites coming up which require a $5 donation and I plan to avoid them, opting instead for some stealth camping somewhere along the trail. I reach the first of these paid shelters and find the daughter and the Ohioan who have stopped for the day. I stop for a quick break and to visit with them for a few minutes. They have only gone about 12 miles today and at that pace it is unlikely I will see them again. I say goodbye and hike on, listening to some Count of Monte Cristo for the last hour or two of hiking.
My target area has two shelters. The first is a mile off the trail. The second is on the trail but the data book doesn’t list tent sites as an option there. I’m hoping for a stealth spot somewhere along a stream that I suppose is nearby considering the second shelter’s name is Big Branch shelter. When I reach the turnoff for the first shelter I can hear the rush of a large stream behind the sign. I make the turn to the left and immediately spot what appears to be a camping area behind the sign. When I check it out I find a perfect spot for a tent tucked behind a hill next to the sign such that it wouldn’t be visible from the trail. The site is just above the banks of the stream and a large swimming hole lies below. It seems almost too good to be true! I put my pack down and since the next shelter is only 0.2 miles away I walk there to see if it can lure me from this site. At the shelter are the Mules who passed me at my last break and a hiker named Alpo who has caught up to us. I spend a few minutes chatting with them but the shelter is not appealing so I head back to my tent site. I am stopping early – it is only 5:00 – but I take advantage by going for a dip in the stream. I set up my tent, change into my swimsuit, and wade into the cold water.
Mindsets are weird animals. They can change so slowly that sometimes we don’t notice until they’ve shifted further than we would like. At that point it can be hard to change them back. In PA my mindset changed and I lost sight a bit of the enjoyment of backpacking. I began focusing more on the miles and, since I didn’t particularly enjoy the state, hiking became a chore. This was partly out of necessity so I could get north before the summer heat arrived and, as I look at the temperatures and read the journals of hikers who are still in the mid-Atlantics, I don’t regret the choice. However since then I’ve still felt a bit of that “me against the miles” attitude, struggling each day to shave a few more off so I’m closer to finishing. Instead of being excited about what I might see each day I’ve looked at the number of miles and counted them down as I hiked. In my mind I’m not even sure it has sunk in that I’m in Vermont and not New Jersey. I had hoped that slowing down would help change this mindset, and it has helped to some extent. However I still catch myself sometimes thinking that I’m going too slow, or calculating how many days I have left, or thinking about things that are far ahead instead of focusing on enjoying what I am doing now or what is coming up in the near future. Today as I play in the stream I try to fix this mindset. I breathe deeply the fresh air with the scent of the conifers. I lay on a warm rock under the sun and listen to the sound of the stream. I watch the sun dance on the water. I live more in the present and force myself not to think about whether I hiked far enough today. The miles will come. For now I enjoy a perfect campsite next to a beautiful gravel stream, one of the pure pleasures of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.