Day 160: Mile 1643.2 | Stealth Camp near Winhall River
We awoke this morning with Stratton Mountain in our sites. Miles was very excited about Stratton Mountain. Supposedly, Benton MacKaye conceived the Appalachian Trail atop this mountain around 1920. We felt in our minds that this mountain was significant in some way because of this vision of MacKaye's but also because it was Vermont and everything started to seem significant. At this time in our hike the end started to seem more real and close. Everything had new meaning and importance to me. I started to actually like backpacking and feel comfortable and capable in it.
The sun was sort of shining, on and off, and the rain had mostly subsided. Storms were in the forecast for the evening but it didn't bother me. We began the day separately and agreed to meet atop the mountain at the fire tower. I listened to some podcasts on my way up and looked for an open view point where I might be able to dry out my very wet tent. Near the top of the mountain I came across the second most beautiful spring I'd ever seen. To be honest all springs are beautiful and amazing in their own right, it is the best water on earth. Next to the spring stood Miles, having just filtered his water.
He waited for me while I filtered mine. Jackrabbit came up behind us, speedily as he always does, and drank straight from the spring! He zoomed away and up the mountain in front of us. I drank a liter of water there and carried two up to the top of the mountain. The top was less than a mile ahead and I wanted to cook a hot meal at the top. I'd gotten used to hot lunch and loved it on these colder days. It was a real morale boost and gave me better energy than bars and crackers.
At the top of the mountain we cooked and talked to the other hikers up there. We saw seven southbounders and five northbounders! A woman, who has lived part time atop this mountain for the better part of 40 years with her husband, told us about her job with the forest service and how she counts the visitors at the top each day. It seemed as though we weren't around many other hikers but she said the day before, a Friday, she saw almost 200 people up there!
I went up the fire tower and saw the sights. I opened the Peak Finder app and scanned the surrounding mountains. My heart skipped a beat for a second when I saw 'Mount Washington' in the tiny letters on the screen. Mount Washington, to me, was home. The valley in which I grew up was in the big shadow of that great Mountain. A tear came to my eye and my heart swelled with so many feelings. Joy. Accomplishment. Homesickness. Excitement.
It was amazing to me that I could have literally walked home. A journey that I honestly wasn't sure that I could or would finished when I'd set out brought me to a place where I could see home in the near future. To me, it was never about Katahdin, I realize now. It was about walking home and proving to myself that I could. I called my Dad with great zeal, forgetting that my family was at a family reunion on this day. After I spoke with my dad briefily the phone was passed around to a bunch of other family members. I spent thirty minutes in a virtual family reunion. It was nice to hear from them but also weird in the middle of the woods.
I descended the fire tower as storm clouds began rolling in. The wind started picking up and hikers began packing up after their breaks to continue on. We said goodbye to the woman, Jean, who lived in the cabin at the top of the mountain and headed down the muddy trail. We hiked to Stratton Pond, where we had hoped to stay, but found it would cost more cash than either of us wanted to spend. Instead, the two of us sat by the pond and looked out at the beauty. Miles ate a snack and I stuck my feet in the water: shoes and all. The dirt slowly squeezed itself out of my shoes into the pond water. Salamanders swam around my feet. The sun slowly started to set over the pond as we watched.
The two of us left the pond before it got dark and found a stealth camp site further up the trail. We set up our tents next to each other and ate snacks for 'dinner'. Candy bars and Munchies snack mix.
This was truly one of the best days. I was so tired. So so tired. But I was happy. I felt accomplished and content and strong. I felt capable and like I had some kind of purpose. And I got one of the best nights sleep of my life at a sloped campsite somewhere in the backwoods of Vermont. A river gushed nearby and my heart was full.