Sunday, January 17, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Vermont

Crossing the Connecticut River into Vermont
I didn't do a lot of research before hiking the Appalachian Trail last summer so when I crossed the Connecticut River from Dartmouth New Hampshire, I didn't realize I had crossed into Vermont. I must have missed the sign on the bridge as well. It was pouring down rain when I crossed so that may have been part of the reason. I found out later that night when I read the trail register in the shelter that evening.

Hiking southbound, the entry into Vermont is about as welcoming as it gets. Before entering the woods, hikers must walk down Elm Street. We had heard about this street several weeks before from other hikers. "It's like Christmas morning..." one north bounder remarked. The reason being, is that several of the residents on the street put out coolers of drinks and snacks for hikers, it seems as if each house tries to out do the other.
Trail magic on Elm Street
For me, The welcome into Vermont was sweet, but it was also wet. I had just met Lux for a beer in Dartmouth. Lux and I had started the AT on the same day, and we were leap frogging each other for the first 500 miles. He's a fiercely independent free spirit from New Jersey, and this was his first thru hike. After leaving the bar, the rain started pouring down. I brought an umbrella for the first time on this hike and it was quickly becoming my favorite piece of rain gear. On this warm July day however, I decided to put the umbrella away and allowed myself to get absolutely soaked while hiking to the first shelter in Vermont. It was probably the first time I ever did that. Since it was warm enough, it felt absolutely refreshing.
AT merges with the Long Trail
Vermont was also quite crowded on my hike. I had been seeing a slow trickle of northbound hikers every day since day 1. In Vermont however, this was where the northbound "herd" and I crossed paths. There were several days where I must have crossed paths with over a hundred northbound hikers a day. Also, the AT fuses with the Long Trail for a hundred miles or so. As a result, there were also dozens of long trail hikers thrown in the mix. Shelters were usually packed with hikers at the end of the day unsurprisingly.
Southbound hikers "Los Sobos Lobos" eat lunch in shelter

Speaking of the Long Trail, this was the first trail I have ever hiked back in 2001, and where my passion for long distance trails ignited. I felt a strong wave of nostalgia where the AT first merges with the Long Trail. Interestingly though, this was one of the few times I felt that feeling. I was kind of amazed and a little disturbed how little of the trail I recognized and could remember. There were a couple spots I did remember however. One was a small peaceful spot along the trail where someone called the "Trail gnome" leaves cold sodas in a cold stream. Back in 2001, this was the first time I had ever experienced "trail magic." Although the sodas were all empty when I crossed the spot this time on the AT, I was happy to know the trail gnome is still out there.
Trail Magic courtesy of the hiking gnome
The second such spot was the white rocks sculpture garden. I remember having a hard time with a personal issue back in 2001. I met an older Long Trail hiker named Coyote back then who told me to find a white rock, put my prayer into that rock, and leave it up there when I passed the sculpture garden. So passing the spot on the AT this year, I had to wonder if my rock was still up there.
White Rocks sculpture garden

Vermont was also the first state where I found a tiny deer tick embedded in my knee. I would eventually find three deer ticks embedded in my body at different spots along the trail. It was a miracle that I was able to spot them in the first place because they were practically microscopic. I was able to remove all three successfully, and I never felt any lyme symptoms. From what I hear, lyme disease is becoming a serious, serious issue on the trail these days, every hiker I talked to knew someone who came down with lyme during their hike. Lux would succumb to lyme disease in New Jersey, but he was able to get treatment right away. Unfortunately it put a dent in his bank account, but he was able to still rebound and finish his thru hike strong.

The state of Vermont ended before any of us knew it, as was the case with many of the New England States. For me personally, I still felt great. My hiking legs were strong. I bought a small travel guitar in Rutland which gave my hike a new flavor. Music was becoming a central theme. I was quick to discover how conducive the Appalachian Trail was to songwriting, to memorizing lyrics, and the joy of sharing the guitar with other musicians on the trail. Many nights around the fire were enhanced by someone playing a song they had learned somewhere in their past....

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