Welcome to the start of moose country in sunny, muddy Vermont, the state of mild temperatures, sweet raspberries, and steep mountains. The farther north my legs carry me on this journey, the more notable the changes around me. My ordinary greeting of “Hey y’all” isn’t as commonplace in this neck of the woods as it is down yonder in the south. The phrase here seems to bring out the friendly in people, triggering a smile and questions about the origin of my accent, (What? I have one of those?! ;-), which usually evolves into lively conversation with the local townspeople. Also changing farther northward are the mountains themselves. The terrain augments in difficulty with exhilarating climbs and painful descents up to 4,000 feet, my highest climbs so far. My legs get stronger every day, every climb. The trail passes through fewer towns and loses cell phone reception for longer periods of time. The surrounding forest is sometimes the greenest green my eyes have ever seen while other sections consist of roots or rocks or fallen dead trees, a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene. The one constant in this hundred miles, however, has been the mud. After several humbling slip and slides, I finally capitulated to the ankle-deep mud and succumbed to walking right through it rather than attempting avoidance. Nevertheless, northern Vermont has come through, with some delightfully stunning views, challenging climbs that make one stronger in more ways than one, and varying trail to prepare hikers for the most difficult sections of the AT directly ahead…New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Maine.
This hundred miles included some “slackpacking”, a hiker term for leaving the 35-pound pack behind and walking a welcome section with a light day pack. What a difference the pounds make, a literal load taken off one’s shoulders! The hike transforms into a pleasantly different experience. This hundred also involved a few needed zero days with some pretty awesome friends in New Hampshire, Guardian, Mellow, and Marni at White Mountains Lodge and Hostel. The few miles Guardian and I hiked on the AT in NH provided me with a tiny glimpse into my near future. With climbs topping 6,000 feet on my near horizon, the epic views and challenging climbs ahead are like nothing I’ve seen yet!
Notable moments included the comical scene of running like my life depended on it across a boardwalk swarming with stinging bees, angry at hikers for walking over their nest; evenings with friends in towns, shelters, or at hostels with delicious food and lively conversation; nights of solace camping beside a babbling brook with a wide view of the nighttime sky’s dotted canvas. I now know where the stars have been hiding. Waterfalls, swimming holes, new and recurring friends from the past, pancake breakfasts, springlike daytime temperatures with chilly nights for solid sleeping, and frequent daily hikes totaling 20 miles or more defined my 700th mile traveled on foot.
Lessons were learned in moments of mishap…one faulty step ending with a jarring crunch of knee against rock offered a sudden reminder of the fact that it only takes one wrong step out of 5,000,000 to do some damage. Watch every single step. A wrong turn added to the frustration of an exhausting day by adding an extra mile to the hike. Be aware and never grow complacent.
Everyday when the rhetorical question is asked in passing, “How are you?” My daily answer, rain or shine, easy day or tough one, is “I’m in love with today.”
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