Days 22-26: The Appalachian Trail in Vermont after the Long Trail
We entered new territory after finishing hiking the Long Trail section of the AT. After getting off trail for a family wedding and being sucked into the vortex of civilization again, it was a bit tough getting back out to hike. Nevertheless, we found our groove again after a couple of days. In retrospect, the days off trail actually helped our bodies recover. We are both feeling physically better than we have ever felt before. Here are some overarching reflections of the last 50ish miles in VT:
- We are trying on some new trail names! Stretch for Kevin and Lotus for Kathy. Kev stretches all the time. Truly, all of the time. In the morning, during breaks along the trail, at camp in the evening. It keeps his body ready for the physical rigors of the trail. Plus, his arms and legs stretch on for days. Upon hearing his trail name, one hiker looked him up and down and said, “I can see that.” Another said “Yea, I saw you stretching.” For a couple of weeks, Kathy went by Princess Waffles, a name given to her because she “waffled” on a trail name. In Vermont, Kathy started feeling much more like a thru-hiker and donned Lotus, flowers that grows in the mud and are symbols of optimism and resilience, specifically in Vietnamese culture. She’s worn a lotus necklace for years and feels like a Lotus, rising from challenge and ready to take on what’s next. What do we all think about the names?! Jury is still out.
- There are so many ways to hike the AT. We’ve met section hikers, NOBOs, SOBOs, and flip floppers. There is some animosity between those who choose to hike differently. Personally, we think it’s awesome for people to get outside and experience the AT in any way that works for them. However, we are noticing some differences in general warmth and inclusivity among hikers. Some seem like they’ve formed their tramily and are not particularly friendly, others are super kind and chatty. Some are here for a party and social culture. Some are here to be alone outside. We’ve met a couple people we’ve connected with really naturally. That said, we really enjoy how much time we have for our own personal reflection and growth out here.
Day 22, 7/9/22: Zero Day for a wedding
We cleaned up pretty nicely!
0 miles of hiking. A lot of dancing.
Day 23, 7/10/22: Inn at Long Trail to Gifford Woods State Park Campground
2 mi, 300 ft elevation gain, Nero Day for travel
Our original plan was to hike about 8 miles today. But, as we passed the nice campsites of Gifford Woods and found out that there were multiple spots available for hikers, we decided to spend the $6 per person to rest our bodies and relax at a place with amenities like charging stations, bathrooms, and potable water. If we are being totally honest, we were not feeling 100% after staying up so late at the wedding the night before! Hungover hiking is not fun. One good thing is that getting back on trail today felt like coming home. Setting up our tent in the woods and nesting for the night is our routine now.
We also met a lovely trail angel named Bliss. She and her partner travel up and down the AT camping and providing trail magic for hikers. She was so joyful and kind and left us with the following words, “Always live in your highest happiness.” Thank you for your warmth, Bliss!
Day 24, 7/11/22: Gifford Woods State Park Campground to The Lookout
14.3 mi, 4200 ft elevation gain
The decision to stay at Gifford Woods was the right one. Right after a pretty flat section that skirted Kent Pond, we climbed. And climbed. This was a really tough steep ascent, primarily because it was consistent and on dirt paths without a lot of purchase for our feet. Quite honestly, this was one of the first days neither of us were feeling great hiking, but we continued on and stayed patient with each other and ourselves.
After a pretty rough morning, we descended and sat by Stony Brook for lunch. This break really energized us for the rest of the day and the 2000 more feet of elevation we’d gain. Overall, nothing really stood out about this section. It was typically pretty, with lots of ferns.
Around 4:30pm, we got to The Lookout, a privately owned, fully-enclosed cabin about 0.2 mi off of the Appalachian Trail. The owners allow hikers to stay and use the cabin, respectfully of course. We ran into Collector and heard about his funny recent town experiences before he continued on. Collector sleeps late and hikes late! After a long 14 mile day, we decided to stay the night in the loft in the cabin with two other hikers, River Dip and heysquirrel (who is wonderful and who we would see for the next few nights). Also, The Lookout has a deck on the top of the roof with remarkable views. It’s a steep climb, but was well worth it.
Today was a great day for us to learn how to deal with the inevitable feelings of not wanting to hike. This will happen again and again, but through it, we are trying to remind ourselves of the impermanence of everything, including tough moments.
Day 25, 7/12/22: The Lookout to Thistle Hill Shelter
14.9 mi, 3600 ft elevation gain
A few drops of rain had fallen already in the morning and more clouds were heading in. We got moving on some easy graded wide paths for the first mile or so. Eventually, the trail turned off onto a rooty rocky track – back to what the AT is famous for. We made quick time through the forests and intermittent fields all morning.
Along with our new friend, heysquirrel, we decided to walk a quarter mile down the road to a farm stand. It was disappointing when we arrived to find it closed that day (only open Thu-Sun), but luckily the owner came by to drop something off and welcomed us inside if we wanted to purchase anything. We sure did and enjoyed some fresh food including ice cream sandwiches, cheese, and an apple (random cravings).
From there, the trail climbed steeply. This feeling would be repeated over and over throughout the afternoon as we climbed up and over successive rises with little to no time along any ridgeline. Before the last climb of the day with under 4 miles to camp, we could see an ominous sky fast gaining on us. The storm overtook us with less than 2 miles to go and it was bedlam for a short bit. The winds swept in bending every tree and turning their leaves over. The rain slapped us sideways in sweeping bursts. Thunder rumbled constantly. The trail swelled with a flood and we were sopping wet in no time at all. It let up as the thundercloud moved on and we made the last half mile into camp squishing in our shoes and laughing at our misfortune. At the end of the day, we gathered with heysquirrel, Collector, and Stormy Weather (aptly named for this day) to make dinner at the shelter before bed.
To sum up: Steep dirt paths, fields, heat, more steep dirt paths covered in pine needles, more fields, torrential downpour.
Day 26, 7/13/22: Thistle Hill Shelter to Velvet Rocks Shelter
16.2 mi, 3000 ft elevation gain
We officially passed the 300 mile mark! Somehow, it has already been 26 days since we started our thru-hike. Today, we had a lot of motivation to get up early to hike the 14.7 miles into Hanover to eat all we possibly could at Dartmouth’s dining hall. Spoiler alert: we were successful.
There were many huge newly downed trees from the storm yesterday. Those winds were super powerful! So we hopped over, crawled under, or went around the roots, trunks, and fresh foliage that now blocked the path. It was a little hard to believe that this would be our last day in VT. We’ve been looking forward to NH and the White Mountains since the beginning of AT planning and now we are right on the precipice of that.
VT seemed to be bidding us good travels with a mostly sunny day along with scenic fluffy clouds. When we popped out onto a short road walk through West Hartford, heysquirrel and a woman called to us from the porch at “The Barn” we’d been hearing about from other hikers. Linda, the owner, gave us some coffee, soda, and snacks and shared some local I two on the trail and towns ahead. We signed her registry and gave her our gratitude before moving on.
The next stretch passed through some pretty forests for about 7 miles. At the end of that trail, the AT follows a long road walk past Norwich, VT and then over the Connecticut River into Hanover, NH. That road walk was hot, but we were very motivated to enter a new state and get to Hanover to see Dartmouth College and take advantage of an all you can eat dining hall.
On the bridge, we took in the moment and snapped some jubilant pictures with the state line sign engraved in the stone. It truly feels surreal that we walked into NH after hiking through CT, MA, and VT. Already 3 states down! And yes, plenty more to go.
When we got to the center of town at the college green, we acted like classic hiker trash. We immediately sat down in the shade on the grass and both used some trail wipes to get “clean.” It just felt so good to chill and take care of ourselves. Then we located the dining hall and gorged ourselves on all the food we could possibly want. Kevin filled the tank to just about bursting. Following, we lounged on the grass for a little while, digesting and relaxing while exploding our wet clothes everywhere to dry.
As the hours in the day ticked away, we cut it right down to the wire and showed up at the Hanover food CO-OP for resupply 20 minutes before closing. Of course, heysquirrel did the same thing and we all rushed around grabbing food and repackaging it to fit into our bags. Then the three of us walked past the soccer fields and turned off into the woods to hike the short, but steep distance to Velvet Rocks Shelter. Overall, it was a pretty great day on the AT.