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A Short Story about The Long Trail

 

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 Extracted from the Trail Journal’s of Theresa O’Brien (Porcupine)

 

 

Beginning on the Massachusetts border and extending the entire span of the state, the 272 mile Long Trail in the Green Mountains of Vermont is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. The trail journeys into some of the most beautiful peaks throughout the Green Mountain’s including Killington Peak, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield. I hiked most of the trail (about 210 miles of it) all at once in July of 2015.

The entire trail took me about 20 hiking days including days where I only walked a few miles into town. This was my first long distance hiking trail and had wanted to do it my whole life having grown up in Vermont. On the trail, I became part of a hiker trash family of vagabonds and none of us took ourselves too seriously. I learned how to make junk food taste gourmet (peanut butter, ramen and one packet of tuna make a hiker trash pad thai, also flaming hot Cheetos and mac and cheese in a tortilla makes the best damn burrito I’ve ever had), and I learned that nothing’s more important than having shoes that fit.

I think everyone should do a through hike at least once in their life, I know that I’ll be doing many many more.

 

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Section 1: North Adams to Kelly Stand Road

Start Date:  6/5/15 Finish Date: 6/8/15

This first section of my Long Trail hike was actually lead by Phyllis Rubenstein, AKA “Groovy Ruby”, a trip leader who brought us through to the Montpelier Section of the GMC. In real life, Groovy Ruby is a lawyer. On the trail, she’s a regimented section hiker. She’s hiked the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail in sections and I guess missed the misery, because now she’s going back for another round.  We stayed at the Seth Warner, Melville Numen and Kid Gore shelters. Seeing as this was my first experience on a long distance trail, our interactions with Appalachian Trail through hikers were a little intimidating. Although I eventually became well accustomed to interacting with this strange sub-culture, my first few interactions with AT hikers (specifically Northern Bound Hikers or NOBOs) were incredibly intimidating. Here I was doing a trail 1/10th the length of what they were doing and they were almost done.

On the third day of my trip I saw a porcupine (this was not how I got my trail name but it did begin my obsession with them).

 

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Section 2: Kelly Stand Road to Route 11

Start Date: 6/13/15 Finish Date: 6/13/15

I really wanted to push my limits and see if I could pull off a really long push, so I did a 17.5 mile stretch as a day hike. Now looking back after having finished the trail, I think that section would have been a piece of cake. However in the moment, this day was anything but a piece of cake as that hike almost killed me. The shoes I was wearing were poorly fitting and I ended up with a minor ankle injury. The highlight of this section, however, was that I hiked this section southbound. This meant I ended the day by experiencing the beautiful view from the fire tower atop Stratton Mountain, which was really cool, although almost hard to enjoy because at that point my ankle was in an unbearable amount of pain. On the way down Stratton towards Kelly Stand, I saw a bear!! It was my first bear sighting while hiking, ever. The bear was already running away from me by the time I saw it so it wasn’t scary, just really awesome.

 

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Section 3: Route 11 to Canada – The final chapter…kind of

Start Date: 7/15/15 Finish Date: 8/5/15

I started this section of my hike with my younger sister, Jackie. She really didn’t want to be alone with our mom and dad all summer so I agreed to take her with me for a week. We had fun, like when we would imitate goats while walking downhill, but she made my life miserable for a little while. We stayed at Peru Peak, Little Rock Pond, and Minerva Hinchley. Like many parts of the Long Trail, the section around this shelter had been heavily impacted by Hurricane Irene. This made it hard to follow the blazes/re-routes and made an already useless guidebook even less helpful. The map and guidebook made it seem as though to get to the shelter you were supposed to follow a road intersecting the trail, but there was no sign indicating when you were at the correct road. After walking down several different road/trail combinations, a thunderstorm started to roll in. This caused Jackie to begin to freak out. I had noticed a family happily eating dinner on their porch while we were walking around and they looked friendly enough, so I decided to ask them if we could pitch a tent in their yard. They happily welcomed us in, fed us dinner, and told us we could stay on their couches. They wanted to hear everything we were willing to tell about hiking the trail (they also told us that we were only a quarter mile from the shelter but still insisted we stay). The family lives in Boston but this was their woodsy getaway cabin. There was no phone, running water, or the internet, but there was a wood stove! All they wanted in exchange is that we had to promise to visit Peru one day (the family was from Peru).

 

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Then we stayed at Pico Camp and David Logan. At Pico Camp, we shared the shelter with two of the most amazing guys we ever met, Lunchbox and Big-Time-Brooklyn. Big-Time is a polish accountant from NYC who just can’t stand corporate America anymore. Lunch Box is the most brilliant dirtbag I have ever met. An ex-NYC-barista originally from the backwoods of West Virginia, who always insisted I pronounce Appalachian “AP-A-LATCH-IN”. That night during a raging lightning storm, he looked at me (a puddle of anxiety at the time since I am afraid of lightning) and said “moments like these are why we hike.” I will admit, it was incredible to watch from Pico camp since the 4-sided shelter sits on a ledge close to the top of the mountain. Lunchbox now lives in a van all over the west coast and has changed his name to Soda.

A few weeks after finishing the trail I found out that Pico camp was built by my great aunt, but at the time, I had no idea. Out of my grandmother’s 13 siblings, she is the only  one still alive. Joan is almost 90 and full of spunk. Back in the day, she was the classic idea of a woods-woman; it didn’t surprise me at all that she and her husband built Pico Camp with a troop of boy scouts, but it is funny that it was my favorite shelter and I didn’t even realize the connection I had to it.

This was the night I got my trail name. I wrote in the book, “the wifi password is ‘prickles’,” as a joke because the cabin had been gnawed on all over by porcupines and from then on I was Porcupine).

On her second to last day on trail, Jackie had such a big temper tantrum that I had to vent about it in the trail log. Everyone I had met on the trail later read it and they still make fun of me to this day.

 

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On July 21st, our mom picked us up in Brandon at Route 73. We spent the night there at a motel and then I continued on without Jackie. I very quickly found a group of hikers who I had met, we all had lunch together on the cliffs of Mt. Horrid and then hiked together pretty much the whole rest of the way to Canada. That first night we stayed at Sucker Brook Shelter, built a huge fire, and bonded as a group. The next day we hiked to Skylight Lodge.

When we reached Route 125, we really wanted to go into town to buy some wine, but unfortunately, the road was closed. So when the first and only car drove through we flagged them down and asked for a ride to go buy some wine. Except instead of giving us a ride, they just gave us a bottle of wine that they already had! And so the night began. At Skylight Lodge, we sat on sunset ledge, watched a storm roll over the Adirondacks, and sipped our wine out of our titanium camping mugs.

 

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The next day we all hiked to Lincoln Gap. By the time that I arrived the guys had been there for over an hour trying to hitchhike into Warren to stay at the hostel. I wasn’t there more than 5 seconds before I had a ride down to Bristol Falls to go swimming. During my too-cool-for-school days growing up, Bristol Falls was THE hangout spot. It was where everyone went swimming, hung out, got away from their parents, listened to shitty music, and blew shitty smoke rings. It was a blast from the past to go there again.  After we swam, we went to a bar and ate two dozen chicken wings each. After that, we got a ride back up to stay at Battell. It was a good night.

 

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Since we were so close to the summit of Mt. Abe we decided to get up before sunrise and have breakfast on the summit. This was one of the best decisions I made the whole trip. You haven’t lived until you’ve sipped your coffee (naked) on the bald summit of a mountain.

The guys staying at the hostel originally planned on meeting us on trail sometime that day, but we found out once we got service at the Starks Nest that they instead took a zero. My mom was meeting me at the AP Gap to make sure I was still alive so we went down and had lunch with them, but lunch soon turned into me staying in town that night at the hostel with the guys. The next day, Lunchbox started from Lincoln Gap but Brooklyn started from Ap Gap with me. We went into Cowles Cove with our friend, Checklist.

 

 

On July 27th, we hiked over Camel’s Hump to Duxbury Rd. It was one of the most amazing hiking days of my life. You’ll have to go there to find out why. I can’t put it into words. Go hike the whole ridge going over Camels Hump (not the 3-mile day hiking trail) and then come back and try to tell me it wasn’t life changing.

I grew up in Shelburne, so I had hiked Camel’s Hump a countless number of times from the shorter trails, but the approach on the Long Trail from the south is a whole other experience.

At Duxbury Rd we were picked up by one of Brooklyn’s friends who lives in Bolton. We spent the night at their house and they fed us Chimichangas. We had planned to be dropped off at the footbridge the next day, but being in a town makes us slow-moving. We wanted a pizza really, really badly but nowhere delivered to Bolton Flats, so we called one of my friends and he brought us one. By the time we were ready to go it was way too late to get to the next shelter from the footbridge, so instead we got dropped off at the old LT and hiked in to Duck Brook Shelter with beer and leftover Pizza. By then Lunchbox had caught up to us and the hiker family was reunited.

 

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Our plan was to hike from Duck Brook to Taylor Lodge but it was so freakin’ hot when we got to Bolton Notch Road we decided to hitchhike to my camp on Lake Champlain. My grandparents built it a long long time ago. Now my grandma lives there with a few of my aunts. It was always where we spent most of the summer growing up. This turned out to be a wonderful decision.

Getting back to the trail proved to be logistically confusing so we ended up parking my car at the Lake Mansfield Trout Club and skipping the 9ish miles between there and Bolton Notch. On July 30th, we hiked from the Trout Club to Butler Lodge and on the way in we saw a Moose!! The wampahoofus Lives!

The story of the wampahoofus is an old folk tale a lot of Vermont locals know. I was told it as a kid by some family friend. Way back before any human being had ever laid eyes on Mt. Mansfield there was a creature who existed, named the wampahoofus. One of the quirks of the wampahoofus was that the female wampahoofus only walked in a clockwise direction around mansfield and the males only walked counterclockwise. Because they did this for so many generations they eventually developed an adaptation to make walking on the steep slopes easier; the left legs of the female wamahoofuses were shorter than their right legs and the males were the opposite. Natural selection kept favoring this trait so they kept getting faster and faster at walking around the mountain and their legs were getting shorter and shorter. Eventually, the sizes of the legs were so mismatched that when the wampahoofii met in the middle to make babies, they couldn’t get the job done! So that’s the sad story of the wampahoofus.

 

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July 31st was Brooklyn’s last day on trail since he needed to go back to work. We decided that his last day should be awesome so we just spent the whole day hanging out on Mansfield and taking in the experience. We hiked down to Taft Lodge and we were going to part ways there, but I couldn’t bear to see him go so I went down to 108 with him. He hitched a ride back to his car in Manchester and I hiked on up to Bear Hollow. Lunchbox was there and the two of us decided that there would be no more stops until Canada.

 

 

The next day at Corliss Camp, we met two section hikers who gave us tons of fresh veggies and other extra food so we wouldn’t need a resupply. On August 3rd, we had our first encounter with the Naked Hiking Club (or as they prefer: Vermont Freehikers Club). Just as we came out of Devil’s Gulch, there they were. They invited us to join but we politely declined. I almost wish we had said yes but we wanted to get to Tiloston Camp before the Thunderstorm came in. We met a new hiker family called the “Thunderducks.”  They showed us how to have a good time on our last two days… possibly too good of a time. The next night at Jay Camp I made a few bad decisions that led to me ending my hike with a raging hangover. No worries though, I met a priest on top of Jay Peak who blessed me so I wouldn’t hurt myself in the last ten miles (this however, didn’t prevent me from finding my way into some knee deep mud).

 

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When I reached the end, the first thing I did was kiss the monument. We could see a big storm coming down from Canada so we couldn’t linger as long as we would have liked. A close friend of mine was picking me up from Journey’s End, but when we got there the car wouldn’t start. I wasn’t the least bit concerned. What’s another night in the woods when you’ve done that for twenty days? Luckily though, it started before my friend had a full blown panic attack.

 

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Section 4: Duxbury Road to Taylor Lodge – That damn 9 miles 

Date: August 15th, 2015

My friend Henry joined me on the last section of my journey. I couldn’t let the summer end without finishing the long trail for real. I’m glad I didn’t go to school before doing it, or I might never have finished. All I really have to say is that I’m definitely doing another through hike, hopefully one of the big three one day (AT/PCT/CDT). It’s like a whole different world that I’m happy I was a small part of and hope to be again.

Porcupine OUT!!

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One thought on “A Short Story about The Long Trail

  1. Rafael M says
    November 30, 2015 at 4:01 am

    Wow! Spontaneous and fun, sounds like a great week of hiking!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Rafael

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