August 29-30, 2017
“I wish I could have backpacked the AT,” a senior citizen friend told me. “But it’s too late for me.”
“It’s never too late,” I responded. “Jay and I met a man named Graybeard, age 82, who is setting the age record for thru-hiking the AT this year.”
“I could never carry the weight of a big pack now,” my friend lamented. “And I couldn’t stay out that long, weeks and weeks of sleeping outside!”
“Hmmm, well, Jay and I almost never carry more than four days of food, and we get a real bed and a shower at least once a week! And my backpack only weighs about 20 pounds,” I laughed.
“20 pounds! That’s not possible! And only four days of food? You’re not really backpacking,” my friend accused.
Since entering Vermont, and rediscovering sloped (not vertical) trails with dirt (not rocks), our trek has become easier in many ways. But come walk with me, and judge for yourself…
The weather is cloudy, with temperatures in the 50s as we climb a total of about 2,000 feet in elevation going up and over several humps in the terrain, then ascending and descending Quimby Mountain. The top of the mountain doesn’t have much of a view, but the air feels fresh, and daylight filters more strongly through the smaller trees near the summit. Huge boulder erratics, left from the last ice age, dot the mountainside as we head down.
At the bottom of the mountain, I am delighted to see a lovely new boardwalk, leading us across a flower-strewn bog. Orange jewel weed, purple joe-pye weed, white and yellow daisies, and tiny sapphire bluets are tangled together in an awesome autumnal display of color!
Thundering Falls feeds the southern end of the bog, and I stand in enchantment for a few minutes, enjoying the play of roaring water and spraying mist. No camera can catch the joy of such a moment!
A mile and a half later we round a corner and see Kent Pond, with green grass running down to the edge of glassy, calm water. A side trail leads us another half mile to the small town of Killington, where we have planned to resupply. At the convenience store/deli, we order food for dinner (marinated summer vegetable salad and tri-tip for me), buy trail food for two more days, then eye the Killington Motel. Hmmm, it IS almost time to stop hiking for the day, and a hot shower sounds wonderful!
The next morning, after eating a bountiful hot breakfast at the motel, we hike the blue-blazed side trail back to the AT. A lingering dawn mist rises from Kent Pond. It seems a magical place as we orient ourselves and head south again.
The trail leads us around Deer Leap Mountain, through an old growth forest. We enjoy the gently sloping path as it climbs a ridge, then traverses across the side of the mountain.
Three miles later, the 270-mile Long Trail joins the AT. We will now be meeting Long Trail hikers headed north, as well as AT thru-hikers.
One mile later, the AT crosses VT Hwy 4. As we hesitate at the trailhead, a red and white bus pulls up and opens its doors. Obviously, this is another AT adventure calling us! We board the bus, giving the driver $1 each, then ride 8.5 miles into the town of Rutland, getting there just in time for lunch at a Burger King! We enjoy the fun of an unexpected meal of fast food when just a few minutes ago we were surrounded by forest. At the end of our meal, we realize that we have no idea where or when to catch the bus back to the trail! Fortunately, my cell phone holds the answer with its eternal connection to the internet. We consult, and realize that we have just missed the bus! The next one will be in an hour. So, what does a thru-hiker do with an unexpected hour in an unexpected town? Wander around and see the sights? Not us! We stay put, and eat a second lunch! (Oh, my stomach is sooo happy!)
We finally pry ourselves away from this source of easy food, and catch the bus, arriving back at the trail 2.5 hours after leaving. The hike up Pico Mountain, then Killington Mountain (2,000 feet elevation gain), fueled with two lunches and lots of caffeine, is painless! Pine trees put springy needles across part of the trail, making me feel as if I am walking on a trampoline. More flowers dot the trail, especially orange jewel weed. We even come across one slope of a different variety of jewel weed – bright yellow! A recently uprooted tree holds dirt in its rootball, making an eight-foot wall of rich black dirt, with jewel weed growing at its base, and raspberry bushes on its top!
We reach the Cooper Lodge Shelter on top of Killington Mountain at 7:15 p.m., with just enough daylight to put up our tent and brush our teeth before tumbling into our sleeping bags. I realize, as I hang our food bags, that we never ate dinner! I guess those two lunches in town were enough fuel for the rest of the day!
So there you have it, in two days on the trail, we have climbed over 4,000 feet in elevation, seen four mountains, enjoyed millions of wild flowers and trees, AND scored a lovely hot shower, a soft bed one night, and an unexpected meal of fast food! Are we backpacking? Yes, for we carry all we need upon our backs, and we continue hiking, no matter what distractions slow us down! We’re not out here to see how much pain our bodies can endure. We’re here to enjoy the forest, to have fun in nature. I know hiking the AT now is easier than 30 years ago. There is much more support for the hikers, and the trail is much better marked and maintained. But we still walk through the forest, and we still carry gear. Yes, we are backpackers!