Vermont (or Vermud)

Day 121

Mile 1748.7

The rain kept me and Tiger in Bennington, VT longer than planned. The downpour flooded the roads and there were flash flood warnings for our exact location. It would seem that Vermont does not divert its water well.

We waited out the worst of the rain. Even so, it was raining when we got back on the trail. The first thing I heard was a loud rumbling of an overfull creek. Luckily there was a bridge. The actual rain died down as the day went on. The mud situation was out of control though. It was giving me flashbacks of that traumatizing childhood movie The Neverending Story.

Nooooo Artax!

There was no going around the mud. You try to bushwack to get around it but there is so much, it eventually becomes a pointless endeavor to stay dry. You get mud in shoes, on your legs, in your hair, and in your soul. You become one with the mud. This is my home now.

The water up here is tinted brown. I hear that’s because of tannins caused by peat and other decaying organic matter. It makes the creeks look like flowing beer. Or maybe that’s just me.

The water at one creek was so high I had to wade through it. It was a little nerve racking. I put on my sandals and got to stepping through the beer river.

The first night out of Bennington we stayed at a shelter where two nitwits woke up 6am and started yakking at each other loudly about their water bottles and other related hiking issues. I was, of course, still asleep but that didn’t deter our intrepid explorers from yelling their very important business for everyone to hear. Tiger got a hilarious picture of me rising from my slumber.

Seriously dude? STFU!

There was a lovely fire tower after that on top of Glastenbury mountain to assauge my nerves though. 360° views of somewhat not rainy Vermont. The breeze was cool and the sun was bright…for awhile.

The next night we were at an unofficial AT cabin with an actual wood burning stove. The water source was a refreshing brook with cold clear water. It made my feet go numb after two minutes which was a blessing.

Another group of nitwits came up dithering about whether or not to sleep in the cabin. Are there mice or not? I don’t know, I don’t want to sleep in here if there are mice. Where is that other person going to sleep? Who’s sleeping where? Are there mice? What are we eating for dinner? Did you put your stuff down? Are there mice in here?

This went on for 20 minutes, which is 19 minutes too long. I was already laying down and rolled my eyes so hard I might have pulled a muscle.

Yes they stayed in the cabin.

No there were no mice.

There was a pub in Manchester Center that boasted the portrait below as their original founder. The cheeseburger was good.

The best sleep in a shelter I’ve had so far was in Peru Peak. There was a rushing creek right in front and it masked all the normal nighttime noises one gets in a shelter. All the snoring, farting, and squeaky sleep pads disappeared as I listened to real time nature sounds.

It started raining off and on. We made it by Lost Pond in a freak break from the never ending precipitation. It would have been a nice spot to camp if the hordes of boy scouts hadn’t already claimed it.

There are these stone walls all over the place. I’m sure they marked boundaries of old farms and whatnot, but I still don’t like them. The Blair Witch Project, while hilariously not scary, left me with a distrust of old stone walls in the middle of nowhere. Especially when they have rusty implements sitting around them.

Going up over White Rocks was spooky. There were two rock gardens where people started a stacking trend. The light was a humid gray that sharpened the edges. The tall pines creaked and moaned like an old house. As pretty as it was, I didn’t dally too long.

There is apparently a porcupine problem up in this area. I guess they’re like possums down south.

And then it was off to Killington peak. Which I didn’t go all the way up. It was a 0.2 steep climb up some rocks and it was a cloudy day. On the way down I saw this puppy in a basket. I lost my shit.

At the end of a blue blaze you come upon this vision.

Dry beds! Showers! Best of all an Irish pub! The Inn at Long Trail! Tiger and I zeroed here and went to the next town over to resupply.

Incidentally Rutland also boasts the Yellow Deli and Hiker hostel run by the 12 Tribes. It’s known on the trail as “that cult deli”. They serve good food and Tiger remarked that whoever is running their marketing knows their stuff. I didn’t drink the kool-aid, but their Chai latte was delicious.

A random selfie picture Inception moment:

The stretch after Killington was super hilly and seemed to go up and down for no reason. I learned a new term: PUDS, or pointless ups and downs. At some point we had to climb down a ladder.

We stayed at a privately owned cabin that had a deck on top. Unfortunately the clouds obscured the views, but they made for some interesting pictures.

Tiger wanted to go into Woodstock which wasn’t anywhere near the trail. I said alright “but only because I don’t want a pouty and sulky Tiger, and if this shit goes sideways you’re gonna hear about it!” We managed to get a hitch from a nice lady named Victoria and ate at the Mountain Creamery. I had the best Brownie a la mode! So I guess it didn’t go sideways.

A Tiger and his pack

In West Hartford a trail angel named Linda gave us cold sodas and let us sleep in her barn.

West Hartford also had the most interesting signs.

Then it was a nice walk into Hanover, New Hampshire! Vermont is done!

Massachusetts

Day 106

Mile 1611.7

The forest is has a different feel in New England. We entered into what is called a Temperate Broad Leaf and Mixed Forest or Boreal, as a sign on one Mt. Greylock helpfully informed me. There are Birches, Maple, and Beeches mixed in with Balsam Firs and lots of moss. In the higher elevation the pines create a different color scheme so as to make everything seem that it is coated in this deep burgundy purple sepia. Combined with the sun shining down through the trees it feels like a sacred place; like a cathedral in the woods. That along with all the positive comments on Facebook has revived my commitment to see this journey through to the end. So thank you guys!

The first place we stopped at Goose Lake Cabin which boasted a large bunk house but after getting there we found out it was full of STINKY hikers. Seriously, I went in and checked for any open spots and was nearly suffocated by the stench. Closer quarters are not kind to the hiker. The pond itself was nice though.

The mosquitoes up here are no joke either, bout got ate up alive. I finally retreated to my hammock with its new under quilt, which was cozy and blissfully bug free.

The awesome thing about Massachusetts are the little towns you walk through within a day of each other. In Dalton we stopped for an awesome brunch full of real food that powered my way up a mountain.

Mt. Greylock had a CCC built lodge on top that offered a cheap bunk room and well received showers. However their $38 prix fixe dinner was not so well received. I ate the usual trail food from my bag, but with a nice view.

Afterwards we passed through a little town called North Adams that had a weird playground next to an elementary school. I’m sure most of the “figures” were bugs or animals it I’m not certain what the last one was supposed to be.

Finally after one last insane rocky climb there was the Vermont border and the start of the Long Trail. And the mud got even worse. It about grabbed my shoe off at one point!

Finally we got to Bennington, VT in much rain to a quaint little hotel with squirrels of a different sort.

After a much needed break we’ll be heading out into what the forecast says is more rain. Yaaaay. But at least I have many clean dry socks (as of right now.)

My way and the highway

Day forever

Mile it doesn’t matter

After Hapers Ferry, Tiger had to go home to care of his sick wife and I was suddenly on my own for Maryland. The first day out I could barely make it 6 miles. The combination of multiple days off, mental fatigue, homesickness, and intestinal distress really took a toll. Also I was missing my friend who made the trail seem like less of a trial.

A few days into what should have been one of the easiest parts became a burden. I was cry-walking and stumbling over my feet. I wasn’t enjoying any part of it, which sounds whiney I know. But it made me think again of why I’m doing this and after a pep talk from my Dad (and some food) I decided to at least get to Waynesboro, PA. Then it started to downpour, like flooding.

I got to a hotel and holed up. The rain caused a leak in the bathroom ceiling. I watched videos of the trail turned into a river. And then Tiger texted with plans of coming back! So we decided to skip up to Massachusetts.

Now some thru hiking purists would scoff at such a plan. But I really dont care. I was super close to quitting anyway and this isn’t a job I have to complete. I guess I can’t really call myself a thru hiker anymore, maybe an adventure hiker?

So we skipped up to Great Barrington, MA and will be getting back onto trail tomorrow.

Harpers Ferry: Halfway to the Danger Zone

Day 88

Mile 1024.8

It has been a lot of stops and starts from Front Royal. The heat and humidity have done what previous perils could not: made me just want to up and stop. Mentally anyway. Other than sweating forever times, it hasn’t any ill effects. It takes a real toll on the old brain meats though. I didn’t want to quit, but a nice vacation from my vacation is what we needed.

Coming out of Front Royal was a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute that had in parts some serious Jurassic Park and Stranger Things vibes going on.

Went through Sky Meadows which was quite nice.

And then the Rollercoaster started. It’s 14 miles of brutal climbs and knee crunching descents. Not a switch back in sight. The maintainers of this trail think it is funny and put up a sign. I was not as amused. It is during this sadistic hike that I passed the 1000 mile mark.

Got into Harpers Ferry which is the “mental halfway point” with the actual mile halfway point being a little over 100 miles past the town. Is a cute little historic town that sits on the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. It also played a starring role in the Civil War with John Brown.

I stopped by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to get my photo taken. I’m NOBO hiker #1509 to register at the center.

Tiger’s wife Lyda picked us up for a quick break in Berkeley Springs WV. I sat in AC, met some kittens, and ate a bunch of good food. The star of the show was the pupper Zinger though. See below.

And now it’s back onto the trail.

The heat is on

Day 82

Mile 970.8

Sorry for the delay in updates. We’ve had some technical issues at Compass Blog World Headquarters. I dropped my phone and broke the screen. I know you were all anxious about my progress. Well you can settle down now and continue on. This is is long one. Buckle in.

I’m going get to let you in on a little secret. The Appalachian trail gets boring. It’s at this point that a lot of hikers quit because they’re tired of walking 20 miles a day in a green tunnel. I’m not sure why some hikers are so driven to “bust out the miles” unless that is some sort of fun for them. I personally don’t see the point or fun in staring at your feet and dreading every minute.

Me and Tiger haven’t really had this problem. Mostly because we don’t do 20 mile days and we stop whenever we want. We’ve had problems to be sure. Intestinal distress, blistering heat, and cracked phones have dogged us. Tiger even broke his tooth and had to have it pulled.

After leaving Pearisburg, rain dampened my gear and spirits. It was somehow both raining and humid at the same time. Topping this off was some pretty tough trail. Mercifully the rain was short lived as we made our way to the lovely hamlet of Catawba where the much famed Homeplace is located.

It’s a homestyle restaurant that I’d heard about at the beginning of the trail for having the best food and in large quantities. It did not disappoint. I didn’t take any pictures because the food didn’t stick around long enough… and also I was hungry. Omigod the food was soooooo good. The chicken was perfectly seasoned, the green beans and corn tasted fresh, and they kept all the foods coming as long as you could eat it. I’m hungry just thinking about it.

Tiger cracked his tooth “on some chicken” here. I’m still not convinced it was the chicken. Sure something was probably stuck in his gums but I’m pretty certain sticking a corkscrew in one’s mouth to get it out is what breaks one’s tooth. So he went ahead onto Daleville to see a dentist about a tooth.

I would have gone with him, but the next day was McAffes knob. It’s the most popular picture people take on the trail. If you Google this location you’ll find pics of people doing handstands and hanging off the cliff. I merely sat at the edge. The hype was true though. It is a truly awesome view.

I met a fellow Georgian at the hostel the night before who I walked with that day. Savage Butterfly and I made our way to Tinker Cliffs to watch the sunset and camp. It was another awe inspiring view. It was a slow day and we took it easy. I’m not sure if all those fast hikers even took the time to appreciate the views. The trail can be crushingly boring for days on end. You’ve got to really soak in the beautiful days when they happen.

I got to Daleville where I met up with Tiger, sans one tooth. When left there I realized I’d left my water bottles in the fridge at the hotel and had to hitch back into Troutville to get some more. I’m glad I did because that days climb was brutal. We went up to a gap that wasn’t a gap in 500% humidity. It was a 1000 feet elevation climb in less than a mile with no switchbacks. There was a shelter that we stopped at for lunch where a fighter jet buzzed the mountain. It literally sounded like a plane was crashing on top of us. I looked at Tiger and was all “bye bruh”. The adrenaline buzz left me shaken for awhile. I thought of all the patients to who I administered epinephrine drips and was glad at least they were on fentanyl and propofol as well.

After getting into Waynesboro we stayed at the best hostel on the trail so far. Stanimals boasted cold AC and clean accommodations. It’s the little things. Then we started the Shenandoah national park. It has Skyline Drive which parallels the AT. The first two days were blasting hot and humid. Any tiny incline resulted in budget loads of sweat. I probably lost and gained 5 lbs of water weight in an hour depending on my consumption.

The lovely Skyline

The second night we were plagued by a whippoorwill. They should have put up a warning sign like they do for bears. Warning! Whippoorwills are active in this area! They can and will keep you awake all night. Should you encounter an aggressive whippoorwill, too bad.

The third day, the aformentioned phone catastrophe happened and we had to go back to Waynesboro. It’s funny how attached to your phone you get. No maps, no camera, no cell service. Got that fixed, Stanimal was happy to see us again.

Where phone catastrophe struck

Made it to Big Meadows lodge that reminded me of FDR state park. Probably because it was built in the 30s. I spent the 4th walking to Byrds Nest #3 but only because Tiger liked saying “Boids Nest”. Mary’s rock was the next big view and the best one in the Shenny in my opinion.

We went into Luray (pronounced Loo-ray in case you’re wondering) to see the caverns, cause why not. My favorite part was the stalagtite organ. It used these plunger thingies to peck the stalagmites to produce a sound routed through to speakers. Overall very worth the side trip.

That’s a reflection on bottom

When we got back on the trail the heat decided to back off and it was actually pleasant. I finally saw some bears which is weird cause most people see 3-5 a day. The park is so narrow your chances of running into them are higher. They don’t bother you. Just kinda of stare and wonder off. They’re more interested in delicious berries.

Classy shenny drank
This is how you pack out blackberry wine.

Finally it was my last day in the Shenny and the weather was obliging. We decided to take advantage of the Skyline’s decidedly more gentle grade and better views while we could.

Then we left the national park and it was back onto crappy rocky trail. You could tell an immediate difference. And now I’m in Front Royal near the end of Virginia. Whew!

Virginia is for adventures

Day 63

Mile 635.5

Before Damascus I melted the soles of my shoes trying to dry them off by a campfire (womp womp). The outfitters in Damascus didn’t have the same Hokas that I’d been enjoying so I got some Obos. They turned my feet into bruised stumps of pain so I ordered those Hokas online. It meant however, waiting in the resplendent metropolis of Marion VA until they showed up. Tiger kindly sacrificed putting in the miles to stay with me.

After I got my sweet new kicks with intact soles we set off for a pretty interesting day. Starting from Mt Roger’s HQ we walked through loamy hills blanketed in ferns. The foggy chillness of the morning burned off into a pleasant sunny afternoon walking through tunnels of Rhododendron by a creek. Near the end of our day there was an old schoolhouse that a church set up trail magic for hikers.

The theme of today’s snack: orange

We ended our day at the Long Neck Lair, an alpaca farm that lets hikers camp on their lawn. Right next to the alpacas! I’m sure Tiger was relieved to finally be there because I wouldn’t shut up about it. WE HAVE TO CAMP AT THE ALPACA FARM! They also had a pretty sweet shower and hot tub.

I made it to the fourth way point. It just blows my mind that I’ve walked over 500 miles.

Inexplicably the next few days I was feeling pretty lethargic and meh. I fell behind and lost Tiger for a couple of days as he nimbly trudged on. I don’t if it was the heat or lack of sleep or what but I couldn’t muster the energy or mental fortitude to keep up.

These things are everywhere and require gymnastics to get over

It didn’t help that I found what seemed to be an abandoned fawn on the trail one morning. I could hear loud noise that I thought was a raven. As I turned a corner this little fawn came ambling up to me crying its little head off. From what I could remember of wildlife rescue was that I shouldn’t touch it and keep moving with the hopes that mama deer would come back. But it kept following me down the trail crying. Eventually I had to jog a bit knowing the fawn couldn’t keep up. Other hikers up ahead told me the fawn had been there since the night before. I spent the next couple of miles bawling my eyes out and unsuccessfully dodging rocks and roots. I made myself feel better about it by pretending the Mama Deer came back and the little fawn is living it’s best life.

I came to Chestnut Knob Shelter which provided a beautiful view of the valley below. It was a bit of soul balm.

I finally caught up with Tiger, mostly because he decided to stop for the day rather than my own hiking prowess. We hiked towards Bland VA where the promise of a cold beverage awaited. It’s been hot and a lot of the trail around Bland is scarred by fire. It seems to make everything hotter when you are walking through burnt trees.

Dismal Falls is a local hangout and I’m glad we didn’t go there on a Saturday. As it turns out we took a zero there and brought some PBR from the gas station nearby. It was a fine day sitting in a creek and sipping beer.

Yes that’s a shopping bag full of PBR sitting in the creek. I keeps it classy.

Woods Hole Hostel is an AT staple. It’s one of the first hostels opened for thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail and occupies an idyllic cabin. Still family run, they serve food they grow themselves. It was a little too crunchy granola for my tastes but I sure did enjoy befriending all the cats. And it was actually a peaceful place to stay.

From Woods Hole it was a quick walk into Pearisburg. By quick I mean that whenever you get near town the feet move a little eaiser…despite the heat. Dreams of fresh food and cold drinks dance through your head. I should have done a little less daydreaming because I got stung by a vicious evil hornet! It came out of nowhere with its electric fire death poison and hit the thumb web of my left hand. It slowed me down only using one hiking pole and a hand full of fire. But I eventually made it to the Pearisburg Food Lion and downed a Peach Nehi. So all is right with the world.

Credits

Staff Blog Photographer Intern: Tiger

Cows and Bears and Ponies, oh my!

Day 53

Mile 533.7

So far the southern part of Virginia has been a return to better weather. Sunny days and cool winds ushered us through the Creeper Trail out of Damascus. Instead of schlepping through the hills, Tiger and I strolled the relatively flat walk by a creek for 10 miles which joined up with the AT later on. Technically this is called Blue Blazing (or cheating by the purists) because the AT which is marked by White blazes followed the same direction but is considered harder. I don’t really care though. I didn’t start this journey to walk every single mile of the AT but more to have adventures where I find them. If I hadn’t gone on the Creeper Trail them I would have missed one of the most bucolic parts of the trip so far.

After all that rain illustrated how poorly my tent protects against water I decided to have my hammock sent me and sent that bothersome tent back home. I am now a tree dweller, swinging in the breeze. I’m sure it will present it’s own issues but it sure is easier to set up!

Such sweet sleep to be had
In the pines

We stayed at a shelter that had been beset by food stealing bears. They even put an electrified fence around a bear box (where you store tour food overnight). I didn’t see any bears though and my food remained unmolested in the morning.

One of the highlights of the AT so far has been the hike through the Grayson Highlands. There a feral ponies everywhere that the park keeps to eat all the negative vegetation and maintain the balds. They run right up to you and start licking the sweat off your skin. I have a suspicion that it might have been some enterprising ponies that may have added to the bear’s bad reputation.

You also walk through pastures with cows idly munching grass. They don’t appreciate when you moo at them. That or I might have said something rude. My Cow is very rudimentary.

Such a fashionable pose

What did you say? Say that to my face!

Emo pony

Look at that fuzzy butt!

The walk through Grayson was a nice change in scenery as well. Most of the AT is a green tunnel where the things just seem the same mile after mile. It’s always a treat to come upon a view and in this case be out in the open. It was a gorgeous sunny day walking through blooming Rhododendrons and grassy fields. There was a rock tunnel you had to pass through called the Fatman Squeeze and I reached the 500 mile mark. All in all, this portion of the trail refueled my determination to continue the journey.

*photos of me taken by Tiger. There you go. There’s your credit.