Days 158 + 159
Day 158: Mile 1612.6 | Stealth Camp Near "Split Rock"
We woke up to more rain. But we knew we couldn't stay here any longer. Armed with a few bars we headed in the direction of Bennington, VT and our next resupply. The rain was cold and we walked very quickly to keep warm. The trail was completely mud. Like unavoidable mud, slippery and wet the whole way. My shoes were caked in mud, and inside I could feel little balls of mud forming rock like structures where blisters would eventually form. We made it the seven miles to Congdon Shelter much faster than we anticipated. There, we sat and had a quick break with Jackrabbit, who was waiting for the rest of his friends. After a small snack, Miles and I got back on the 'road' and shortly we arrived at the rocky descent into Bennington. After the rain, these rocks proved to be slippery and dangerous. Miles went slowly behind me while I sped down the rocks toward food. When I looked back, after nearly falling, I couldn't see him. I called to him, nervous, and he yelled back to me. He was frustrated and hangry and was in no mood to deal with wet slippery rocks. That's the trail, though, every time you're hungry or you think you're home free the trail throws you a challenge.
He made it down to the bottom, annoyed, and we crossed the street together to a trailhead parking lot. The staff of the Orvis headquarters were there doing trail magic, one of their co-workers was supposed to be hiking through on that day. We were so excited! Both of us were hungry and low on money. We got to eat so much home cooked food and fresh fruits and even a cold beer! That trail magic saved us. We were about to eat trail food for dinner, even though we were in town, just to save a few bucks. It was a dismal idea and we were so thankful to get some good food.
As we ate, the sun came out. We laid out everything in our packs on the dark pavement in the sun. Our gear seemed to dry magically fast. I didn't take off my shoes and socks to dry, which was definitely a mistake but I was too lazy. I called my mom and she put together a care package for me and arranged to send it to Hanover, NH. We were only in the beginning of New Hampshire, but it felt like we were so close to home. I'd been waiting so long to get to Vermont. Well, not waiting so much as working hard to get there, but hey it felt kind of like waiting.
After we stuffed ourselves in the good company of Wolf Pack, we caught a ride from one of the Orvis employees to K&J Discount Center, a store that sold nearly expiring or expired groceries. He had thru-hiked the PCT a couple of years ago and told us all about it on our way downtown. K&J ended up being awesome! It was sort of like a small Ocean State Job Lot with only food. It had all kinds of things we couldn't usually afford: almond butter, pro-bars, rx bars, turmeric ginger tea, etc. It was so nice. I still spent $40 on my resupply but I think I had twice as much as I would normally get for that amount of money. My pack was stuffed to the gills and heavy but it was so worth it.
We even got to meet their in house cat, which sounds weird at a food store but I was happy to pet her. Outside the store we sat down and unpackaged all of our food. The woman who owned the store was nice enough to come outside and offer to take our trash for us! This town was turning out to be so generous. After we finished packing our food bags up, we sat snacking outside trying to decide what to do for a ride. A guy rode into the parking lot on a bike. He introduced himself as Andrew and told us he worked at the bike shop next door. He offered us a ride back to the trail head if we could wait 15 minutes for him to finish working. We gladly accepted.
When he came out he lead us over to his lifted Jeep and we loaded our packs in. He told us about how he wants to hike the AT next year and he already practiced by doing the Vermont Long Trail. He already had all of his gear and everything. I was impressed, I hadn't even camped more than a night or hiked more than 10 miles a day before I started the AT. He'd make it, and fast, I was sure. He dropped us off at the trail head and wished us luck. I gave him my number and offered him a ride when he gets into New Hampshire next year.
We said our goodbyes and thank yous and walked up the trail. I had read on Guthook that there should be camping right by the parking lot but on the other side of the river. They were all taken, though. We had to start climbing. It was only a mile to the shelter but I really didn't feel like walking. My stomach was so full. After not eating breakfast or lunch, I had gorged myself in town. Two chicken salad sandwiches, two apples, a beer, two cupcakes, an orange, some chips, Gatorade, a liter of water, tea, and half a bag of pretzels in a span of about three hours. I was bloated and kind of lethargic from all of the food. I trudged up the hill behind Miles who seemed to be leaping bounds up the hill in front of me. My back strained under the load of extra food, probably a mistake.
The hill flattened out after half a mile and two perfect stealth sites were situated to the left of the trail. I spotted them with great relief and yelled ahead to Miles: "Right here! Look right here! Miles! Campsites!" I yelled through my panting breaths. I took my pack off and stood there taking huge gulps of air. My stomach started cramping and hurting really badly. I was immediately nauseous. All I wanted to do was lay down. Miles jaunted back to me and agreed that camping there would be fine. Oh yeah, in addition to all the weight of the food, I had bought two new waterbottles. Usually I only carry a liter of water at a time. There were two full liters of water on my pack, that's like four extra pounds! I didn't even think about drinking them before I left.
I set up camp and laid down as quickly as I could. Every time I bent over to put a stake in the ground (6 times) I felt like I might hurl. I got in my tent and laid down, groaning. I started to panic, I hadn't felt this kind of stomach pain in a very long time. Not since... not since my spleen became inflamed the last time I had gotten Mono... I realized. I really started freaking out. "Miles do you remember which side of the body your spleen is on? What about your appendix? Not that one side of my stomach hurt more than the other anyway. My mind just immediately went toward the worst possible outcome, like it always does, and this was the first time that I noticed myself doing this in the moment.
I stopped and took a deep breath. Then another. Wow I'm really freaking out over nothing right now. Why do I always hyperbolate like this? I thought in my head. I stopped complaining to Miles. I lay in my tent deep breathing, staring up at the green sil-nylon wall above my head. Everything is okay. I thought to myself over and over in my head. [TMI WARNING] (honestly, not even really TMI more like not socially acceptable to talk about....) All of a sudden I heard my stomach rumble and I let out the biggest fart I'd ever had in my entire life. The pain in my stomach reduced by at least half.
That's when Miles and I broke out in hysterical laughter. I had a gas bubble! I was freaking out so bad for a gas bubble. Wow I am a dramatic baby! I thought to myself. I was embarrassed that I had freaked out so much. I apologized to Miles. He laughed and said, "It's not the first time!" I felt bad. He was right: it wasn't the first time I'd freaked out more than I needed to. But I also felt better, both physically and about the freak out, because, despite my freak out, I finally recognized in the moment that I do do this thing that I don't want to be doing anymore. I became more self aware in that moment. I'd become a lot more self aware on this whole journey. Less negative and now, hopefully, I was on the path to be less dramatic.
The sun set quickly behind the clouds and we awaited another evening rain storm in our tents. Laughter volleyed between our tents for a few minutes. This was an incident I wouldn't live down anytime soon. I burped and farted my way to an emptier stomach and my cramps soon subsided. Thankfully, we weren't sharing a tent that night.
(P.S. I hope this story brings you as much laughter as it did me.)
Day 159: Mile 1630.7 | Story Spring Shelter
Another rainy morning was upon us and we tried to get out of camp early. In the cold rain we hiked as fast as we could. The trail was, once again, a mud pit. Ankle deep mud just tore at my joints and created little blister spots under the balls of my feet. The air was colder than the heat and humidity that we had experienced for most of the last month and no matter how fast I walked I was cold and had goose bumps all over my unshaven legs. The first two hours out we hiked at 3mph up hill. It was worth it stay warm.
I lost Miles on a climb right before the first shelter. The rain had calmed a bit as we walked so I slowed my pace here. A piped spring sat on the side of the trail a quarter mile before the shelter. I got out my water bags and filled them. I carried the unfiltered water to the shelter and made it under the roof just as a torrential downpour began again. In the shelter was Wolf Pack and a few Southbound hikers. They told us a story of someone they knew whose southbound thru-hike was ended on Katahdin on his very first day:
The story goes that this hiker was climbing Mt. Katahdin on the first day of his southbound thru-hike. He bent down to tie one of his shoes and his Nalgene water bottle had slipped out of one of the side pockets on his backpack. The water bottle fell directly on his foot and broke two of his metatarsal bones. He couldn't continue his thru-hike and had to stay in a hostel while his wife completed her first week on trail. He ended up going home from there.
My pack cover was doing nothing. I don't know if it was the torrential down pour or if my pack cover was somehow not waterproof anymore, but it was soaked through and my pack was too. Thankfully, I had a large carpenter's trash bag inside keeping my clothes and sleeping bag dry. The only real downside to my pack cover not working well is the water weight my pack would absorb in the rain. I finally put my raincoat on, I was too cold to keep it off.
I slipped and slid up and down the next two small mountains. We came across a fire tower. In the past, like in New York, fire towers were situated on a bald, they made an already great view even better. This fire tower was different, it was stilted over a dense pine forest. In the rain and fog it was almost eerie. The trails around here were used for snow mobiles in the winter and the stop, don't enter, and directional signs still hung on the trees in the summer, which made it feel even more spooky.
We climbed the fire tower as the storm slowed to more of a sprinkle. The views were incredible. The way the fog hung around the top of the pine trees was enchanting. Even with the fog you could see for miles. As the wind picked up and fire tower began to feel more unstable, we descended it's slippery metal stairway.
we stopped at the next shelter after this. I was so cold that I decided to make myself a hot meal of mac and cheese to bring some comfort. Here we met a couple of southbound hikers: Trash Panda and Just Don. They were both so positive and learning that you can actually stop hiking whenever you want if you don't have a deadline. This was the first time, Trash Panda told us, that she allowed herself to stop before noon. Sometimes you just need that. Especially on cold, rainy days like this one. I don't blame her one bit, in fact I encouraged her. Miles made himself some minute rice and we sat under the edge of the shelter roof, barely staying dry.
While we ate, Huck and Ray came up to the shelter! I hadn't seen them since Virginia, and Miles hadn't seen them since Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts! We caught up with each other and had a great chat. Huck even gave me a lighter when mine ran out. When we finished eating we headed back out in the rain. We both kept our raincoats on (we usually don't hike in them because they aren't very breathable and it gets hot quickly) and trudged up the muddy trail. We could have stopped at that shelter with Huck and Ray, but I had a lot of energy left in me. Maybe it was the caffeine or maybe it was the fact that I was already cold and wet and I might as well knock out some more miles while I'm in this state of being.
We climbed over the next mountain and found the shelter with the beautiful spring. While Miles set up his tent in the only spots we could find that weren't flooded, I went to the spring to wash my feet and socks. The water was numbingly cold but I didn't care. I scrubbed my feet and my toes in the water and left them there until I could barely feel them attached to my body anymore. I was freezing but the water felt so good, so clean, so soft compared to the mud. I wrung out my socks over and over and got maybe half of the dirt out of them. When I removed the insoles from my sneakers I found big clumps of hard mud where the balls of my feet usually rested and at my heels. This explains my new blisters and the feeling like I'd had rocks in my shoes the whole day.
(These photos were taken after I rinsed off in the spring.)
Once my shoes were clean and my water was gathered I went back to the campsite and set up my tent. I was completely exhausted. The cleaning of the socks and shoes took time and energy that I didn't really have. I was too tired to make dinner. Miles boiled water for me and made my meal. We ate together and I barely stayed awake long enough for dinner. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and, Miles claims, snored the whole night through like a small bear.