Shooting Star shelter to Canada border
“Like most amazing things,
Its easy to miss,
And easy to mistake.”
I’ve Had It– by Aimee Mann
This is the last day in the past month when I’d wake up, stuff away my Ibex wool sleeping underwear and then slide into my cold, wet, stinking, and salt-saturated hiking shirt. Even better, it will be the second time in a year when I’ve had the fortune of thru-hiking a National Scenic Trail to the Canada border in the month of September. Last year I walked 2,600 miles to reach the same defoliated strip, but on the west coast in Washington, where I walked into British Columbia on Sept. 27th.
The Weatherman was out of the starting blocks first today, followed by General Lee and then me.
The miles are now few but adversity continues to dog me. The climbs up Burnt (2608’) and Carleton ( 2670’) mountains were slippery and steep, and were each about 500 feet of ups. On the back sides of both were long stretches on wet boulders and ledges that were interspersed with serious mud pits.
Today I also had the benefit of just one trekking pole. I was not able to find a hiking stick, despite the debris strewn about.
I was hiking behind Lee when I approached a particularly nasty mud run where a half-submerged, black, glistening log was the only path over and through the mess. I had successfully dealt with this deal before- many dozens of times, and expected that my slow, careful movements would bring me to the other side without peril, but the Long Trail was determined to leave me with a special souvenir. I quickly slid off the log, and experienced a most despicable situation where first my right leg went into the mud, where I didn’t stop sinking until I was up over my boot, tall gaiter, and then above my knee! So many times I forget to take pictures of these worst things that happen to me, as I’m generally fully engaged in trying to extract myself from misery. But Lee was within eyesight and I shouted out to him to come back and take my picture. Here it is:
Later, when we caught up with The Weatherman, he was also covered up to his knees in dried mud, where he had also slipped off that same log into the same sucking mud hole.
It was so sweet a feeling to make it through this long backpacking trip.
A final planning dilemma awaits any Long Trail thru-hiker once the terminus of the Long trail is reached. First, a 1.3 mile hike out on what is known as Journey’s End Trail, which leads to a tiny parking area at the end of a gravel road. Normally, a vehicle can traverse the 1.2 mile Journey’s End Road, but enter the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which reached to the end of the US to screw things up. Auntie Mame and V8 had planted my Caravan at Jay Auto, some 4+ miles away, directly south, on a little-traveled gravel road that I had intended to walk ( maybe even run) with no pack, where I’d drive back and pick up Lee and Weatherman at the end of the Journey’s End Road.
But one last dose of Trail Magic still awaited us, here at the end of our hike.
Yesterday, at the top of Jay Peak, we were killing time in the summit building/Tramway Station where the gondola was depositing folks who wanted to get on top without hiking. It was odd seeing well-dressed ladies in gold jewelry walking with pocketbooks and heading up the last boardwalk to the summit ( 3858’) to snap photos of the expanses all around us. Most of them steered a broad course from anywhere near us, but one young bearded fellow came right over.
“You guys thu-hiking?”, he asked.
“ I can help you guys out”.
Soon the hiker-trash bond was established when we learned that Crunch had just came all the way up himself, finishing his own LT thru just last week.
Backstory–>>Crunch has been up here in the Northeast Kingdom after working at a dog sledding camp. The business has a web-site that was accessed by a 67 year old retired toy designer from Chicago who wanted to thru-hike the Long Trail. This gentleman was fit, and had done a bit of hiking, but was not comfortable heading up into the wilds of Vermont and solo hiking. He was seeking the services of a local “sherpa” who would carry all his food -allowing him to shoulder a much lighter pack, thus ensuring his chances at completing the hike. Crunch time. Crunch also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, so he was an excellent candidate, who was well-suited for this unique business opportunity. So a fee was agreed upon – $2,000 payable to Crunch. But wait- it gets better. This gentleman was used to the good life. Even while hiking – he wanted to dine, drink, and sleep in style. He ( let’s call him “the sport”) agreed to prepare numerous gourmet food/wine mail drop packages that included the eats for both of them. In addition, town stops would be good, so the sport also booked separate rooms (when possible at the better Bed and Breakfast establishments) for both of them, and also had no problem purchasing all meals and incidental expenses for Crunch’s efforts. It mostly worked out, except for the day when the sport somehow made a u-Turn on the Long Trail and hiked backwards for several miles.
So, all we had to do today was reach the parking lot at Journey’s End today at 2 PM, where Crunch would drive us to my car in Jay. We told him that we heard the Journey’s End road was washed out by the hurricane, but Crunch assured us that in his high clearance 4WD Toyota there would be no problems.
We arrived at the parking lot at 1:40 PM , and then sat on our packs and waited until 2 PM, but no Crunch. Plan B.
We did what we knew best- started hiking out. The gravel road became progressively worse as we went on. It eventually morphed into one of the worse washed-out gravel roads I’ve walked on, and I’ve been over a few.
There was a section of several hundred feet that with erosion in it that went over thee feet deep.
Eventually the road became passable and we were thrilled to see Crunch ‘s white Toyota pickup heading toward us, to whisk us away to Jay Auto where my car started right up. Auntie Mame encouraged me to just go to the Jay Village Inn, which looked good and was right across the street from a huge convenience store/ cafe. There were no cars in the ample parking lot, so we were crushed to hear that the best they could do for us was $150 (“It’s the holiday weekend, we would normally charge $165.”). Bye.
Route 242 to Montgomery Center was closed due to the hurricane, so we had to take Route 100 south.
For the next four hours our spirits crumbled as we unsuccessfully sought to find a room to hole up in, with rates no lower than $140 no matter where we turned. We decided to work our way over to Burlington, where Lee and The Weatherman could catch public transport to Montreal ( Lee) or New Jersey ( Weatherman). We reasoned that there must be a Super 8 or a Motel 6 over there. The Weatherman had two free rooms from his Hilton Honors membership, and there was a Hilton in Burlington, but after he finally made the contact was informed that the offer was only for weekday stays. We plunged even deeper into the vortex of anxiety when we encountered a huge traffic jam on Interstate 89 into Burlington. We were not able to establish any rational solution to find a strip where there were national hotel chains. At this point we desperately aimed for the Burlington airport, with Lee at the wheel, but we found nothing but residences surrounding it. We were fried, it was now close to 6 PM, and Lee pointed to a grassy strip near a fence.
“Let’s just sleep there,” Lee pleaded, “Maybe we won’t get kicked out?”
Enter the skills of The Weatherman, who was able to fire up his smartphone, and get onto kayak and hotel.com, and successfully extract a phone number for Motel 6 nearby, where they had 1 room left, at just $89 with my AARP card discount. The Weatherman then programmed his phone into GPS mode, where it talked me through the rights, and lefts where a wonderful sight came into view- a huge, brightly lit Motel 6 flanked by a McDonald’s on one side and a Burger King on the other.
It’s distressing how soon after leaving the Long Trail that I became overwhelmed by something so simple as getting a room in Vermont, and in Burlington of all places.
It’s also true that things often come right at you where you appear to be least able to tackle a situation, yet something eventually emerges if you can just hold on and keep moving forward. Momentum helps.
I’ll follow up with some Post-hike thoughts about my experience and how gear worked (or didn’t). Thanks for reading, and special thanks to The Mayor and Genius, Auntie Mame and V8, Brad Purdy, Bad Influence, Duff/Lee/Susan , Paddy-O, Mr. and Mrs. Two Dinners, Crunch, Hurricane Irene, and of course MeGaTex.