A Month in the Woods: Reaching In

Well, it's high time I write a little about my experience thru-hiking the Long Trail in September. It was such an unusual and unpredictable journey, and I've been mulling over just how I feel about it.

Before starting the hike I found an article online advising thru-hikers to first and foremost take stock of their motivations. The author recommended asking yourself 1) Why am I doing this hike? 2) What will I do after the hike? 3) What will I do if I don't finish the hike? So I sat down and answered those questions.

1) Why am I hiking the Long Trail? To be both soothed and challenged by nature. I want to physically challenge my body in a way I never have, and also treat my mind to a break from people and technology, and kill my craving for overstimulation, since that has so become the norm in day-to-day life. I don't feel at all the need to run away from life, or like I'm doing this to heal from something, or "find myself," it feels more like a need to refocus, declutter my mind, and figure out what steps I want to take next.

2) What will I do after hiking the Long Trail? I'll work on the tiny house as much as I can afford to, but mostly I want to work on my business, and hope to come off the trail with a goal of where to go next.

3) What will I do if I don't finish the Long Trail? Be very disappointed with myself. This is a challenge I really need, and I would be very upset if I wasn't able to finish. But I would look for silver linings, like seeing the people I love, and going to some of the events I'll be missing, and working. But it would feel like a failure, for sure.

Honestly, it's strange to read this now, from on the other side of it. But before I get to that, I'll just recap the whole journey briefly. On August 29th, my sister and I headed to Burlington for a wee mini vacation before I started the trail. We ended up on a boat by surprise (literally unaware we were going to take a ferry until the directions sent us down a road that ended at a ferry terminal. Thanks, Google Maps!), grabbed an incredibly delicious meal at Revolution Cafe (seriously, if you're remotely in the area, go there ASAP) and spent a delightful night at the Buck Hollow Inn.

Burlington was a really lovely town, and about 45 minutes outside of it was our B&B, which I can't recommend enough; not only was it a charming little place with a great common room and a killer hot tub, but it turned out to have vegan options! One of the owners is vegan, and she made pancakes and house made sausage in the morning! It was the best possible way to start off my hike.

It was a chilly, grey day, and fairly emotional when Madeleine dropped me off at the trailhead. But mostly I was buzzing with energy and raring to go.

The first day was easy climbing, though my pack felt unwieldy and I felt like a real noob compared to all these NorthBound (NOBO) hikers speeding by me up the trail. But the view at the northern terminus was lovely, the cool day perfect for comfortable hiking, and I was the happiest camper as I set up my tent that night. I was already a little surprised by how many people were on the trail, and stealth camped between shelters that night so I could have some time alone.

This became a common theme, trying to find ways to spend some time alone. I was shocked by how consistently I met people on the trail and didn't stop at a single shelter, whether for a snack or for the night, where there weren't other hikers. It was fun to chat a bit, and often the NOBOs had handy information about what was coming up next on the trail, and where water was scarce (which was a lot of places, with the northern chunk of the trail experiencing drought conditions), but it was becoming noticeably difficult to find the space for that second prong of my reasons for being out there: solitude in nature.

Most of the time, though, I was having a blast. I felt like the luckiest human on earth, to have the time and physical ability to just BE in the woods, with nothing on each day's docket but to walk. My body started to acclimate to hiking for miles everyday, and my legs felt strong and capable. I had reached into myself and found strength, both physical and mental, that felt so good, and so vital. By the time I got to my first town and resupply I was in heaven.

The first morning waking up on the trail was one of the coldest of the month

The first of many trailside mashed potatoes

"The whole morning felt like a creepy fairytale, all mists

and moss. I kept expecting to see a cloaked, witchy figure

moving among the misty trees. Then I realized, it's me.

I'm the witch in the wood."

"In my tent, in a wicked thunderstorm,

torn between enjoyment and fear,

counting 'Mississippis' like this is 'Poltergeist.' "

Feeling a touch cranky after coming down Laraway and taking five.

A snackbar, bathroom, AND outlets on top of Jay - a hiker's dream!

I had sent my first mail drop to Johnson Hardware & Rental, a huge home improvement and garden store that has a mammoth outdoor gear section. They've really ramped up their camping section recently, and are very welcoming to hikers. Conveniently, the trail goes practically to their front door, as well. Walker, who runs the camping section, gave me a lift to town where I swapped out my resupply with the gear I'd decided to send home, and headed to the market for the basic essentials: nail clippers, pop tarts, and oreos. Then, in a wonderful whoosh of trail magic, secured a place to spend my first zero mile day: the barn of the most angelic of trail angels, Mark, who actually moved to Johnson after hiking the Long Trail himself. He's been hosting storytelling events for years, and is turning his seriously rad barn into a storytelling and music (and hiker-housing) venue.

After a day and a half of resting, getting my clothes more or less clean, and making friends with the other SOBOs who had come to stay at Marks, I felt refreshed and antsy to get back on the trail.

"I am so carrying my loved ones

with me through these woods.

But why wouldn't I? They're part of me.

Horcruxes, indeed."

My itch to get back on the trail gave me a boost that lasted for several days, and I steamed right through long and tough miles, feeling as though I'd been walking over mountains forever, nothing to it, easy peasy. Then we got hit with some near-freezing nights, I got my period ten days early, and my body had finally had enough. I wasn't packed for weather quite that cold, and there wasn't anything I could pack to deal with the hellacious bleeding and cramping my lower half was experiencing. Eventually I cut off the trail earlier than my next scheduled resupply and headed to Waterbury to recoup.

This was hands down the correct choice. They say the trail provides, and sometimes it provides by telling you when to GTFO. Going to Waterbury and staying at the Stagecoach Inn was the exact lift I needed, with great vegan options and craft beer at the restaurants, an independent book store that gave me Open Door nostalgia, and the feeling of fall just starting to set in. I find early autumn to be a potently motivating time of year, and I felt bursting with energy and ideas for my home, my business, and my blog. After a couple of days rebooting, letting my period wind down and feet and knees rest up, I shouldered my pack and headed back to the trail. I felt renewed by this break in town, but unlike my last resupply stop, I was also feeling a little ember of doubt as to why I was out there. Instead of being antsy to get back to hiking, I found myself wishing I could take pretty drives, work on my blog and business, and bake tasty things. But, despite my waning enthusiasm, I squared my shoulders and decided to keep to the plan.

Continued in Part Two: Reaching Out

#travel #personal #hiking

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