Mud, Sweat & Tears: The Long Trail 2013

12 Jul

It’s been a while!

There are many, many reasons why, but the biggest may be that we’ve been prepping for Hardtack’s Thru Hike of the Long Trail in Vermont’s beautiful Green Mountains. I’m happy(ish) to report, he’s deep in the mountains now!

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I’m also happy to report that I successfully completed the first 58 (or so) miles of the trail with him last week, July 2-6..so today’s hike profile will cover my stint as a Long Trail section hiker!

To begin at the beginning…

DAY 1

We started our journey with an early morning run to Stop & Shop to A) dump the change HT had been saving as his Trail Fund in the CoinStar machine; and B) grab some last minute fresh food (wax-coated extra sharp VT cheddar and apples).

Then we drove to Enfield, CT to drop the Duchess off at her country retreat (aka grandmother’s house) for the duration of HT’s hike. HT’s mom graciously drove us to the (rough around the edges) Springfield, MA bus station, where we caught a bus to Williamstown, MA, where the LT (sort of) begins.

We jumped off the bus somewhere near the middle of town and navigated to a coffee shop and hippie sandwich joint based on HT’s memories of the town from traveling through in his hockey coaching days. We packed a sandwich for our first night’s dinner, charged up our phones and walked….2+ miles…to the trailhead (talk about an annoying 2 miles).

Note: The trailhead was not the beginning of the Long Trail, as we were actually still in Massachusetts. We proceeded to hike the Cobble Hill Trail to take us to the Long Trail. We didn’t even BEGIN hiking until 5pm on Tuesday night. Hardcore, right?

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And of course, the SECOND we stepped foot into the woods, the skies opened up and the downpour didn’t stop until we reached the…

Seth Warner Shelter (the first on the LT, NOBO/northbound) where we pitched camp and attempted to dry off before scarfing down sandwiches and passing out.

DAY 2

Next morning, we picked slugs out of our soaking shoes, put our wet trail clothes back on and suited up for another day of anticipated rain. The rain held off but the mud more than made up for it. All I can really say is it’s PAINFUL for two people who are used to hiking around 2.5 mph to spend 1 hour hiking 1 mile, slip, sliding and swamping the whole way. And I’d like to say you get used to it, but I didn’t—and reports from the woods say HT still hasn’t.

MUD=MADNESS

We made our way through the mud madness for 7.3 miles, keeping a pace much slower than our usual. We stopped (along with 5 or so other LT hikers) to rest and eat a lunch of Cabot Extra Sharp & rosemary crackers at the Congdon Shelter. It was a welcome chance to take off our shoes and soak up a tiny bit of sun. The water there was cold and flowing, so we filtered and filled up for the 5.9 additional miles to the Melville Nauheim Shelter.

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This stretch involved a really tough descent and then ascent on opposite sides of VT Rt 9 where we both lost energy and realized we weren’t being smart about stopping to eat at the right intervals, especially between meals. We did our best to haul ourselves up the never-ending rock steps to the…

Melville Nauheim Shelter, where we set up a nice little camp in a relatively private and relatively flat tent site (score!).

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This night we learned a few things:

  • Don’t share a 2-serving meal in a bag if you’re cooking without pots. It’s not fun to pass back and forth OR eat in shifts. It  takes away from the warm, fuzzy experience that is a warm meal after a long, muddy trek—not to mention you’ll probably still be hungry later. That being said, the Alpine Aire Texas BBQ Chicken tasted pretty great in the moment.
  • If you hang it up at night, partially dry, when you wake up in the AM it will be wet. Green Mountain Magic!
  • The Sawyer Squeeze filter system really works. The water source at this shelter smelled just like the pit privy, but after filtering, we all survived.
  • Hanging a bear bag can be a real pain in an over-camped area that lacks trees with relatively low branches. Bear bagging can be a mini athletic event, actually.

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DAY 3

In the morning, we set out earlier than the day before (but still not early enough for HT) after a breakfast of Straw Propeller oatmeal and organic pop-tarts. We knew we had a steep climb ahead up Glastenbury Mountain and a trek through an area called “Hell Hollow” (yikes) to get there. We stopped at the Goddard Shelter for a snack and there was actually a small slice of a great view there so we took a few (beautiful, glamorous) pics. We chatted there with a couple AT hikers and HT even managed to find a fellow NASCAR fan. What are the chances…

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We were just so happy to see the sun! And feel free to judge my outfit. Of course,  “Blue Bin” has blue trail runners, blue Dirty Girl Gaiters and a blue Road ID. There’s only so much opportunity for “fashion” in the deep woods. And regarding the bandana…It was treated with Permethrin AND it was the 4th of July—absolutely trail appropriate.

From the Goddard Shelter we kept moving to the summit of Glastenbury Mountain. There, we felt like we climbed FOREVER and we’d never reach the top, then suddenly, there was the firetower. We took in the view from the top but it was windy and we still had ground to cover so we skipped the photo op, continuing on to…

Kid Gore Shelter

We were the first to arrive at this shelter for the night, a big score when you’re typically vying for just a few (and sometimes only one) good tent site per shelter location. This is a good place to mention that as a rule, we were interested in staying at shelters, but never in them. Shelters have a reputation for attracting more rodents, require you to share small spaces with really smelly fellow hikers and provide no privacy or protection from bugs. Being in proximity to a shelter, however, is really helpful as it ensures a reliable water source and most always offers a few usable tent sites. So, being first in at the Kid Gore Shelter meant we secured this beautiful tent site with a built in view. We made dinner, hot chocolate, toasted marshmallows and played with sparklers—Happy 4th of July!

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We had this beautiful site, with a beautiful view…and then we entered the tent. We quickly discovered that our perfect site was deceivingly slanted and I was repeatedly sliding into the mesh tent wall. It was bad, and with enough inadvertent whining, HT  switched places with me altogether (a gentleman). He mentioned in the morning that he had not slept well, if at all, but that his view of the stars had been spectacular…I was grateful.

DAY 4

In the morning we packed up and snuck out of camp before 7 of the 8 other backpackers who’d trickled behind us the night before. We had our longest day ahead of us, so we wanted to get as many fresh morning miles in as possible.

The day’s hike turned out to be a slog through buggy, muddy woods but this was the first day that the bugs were bad enough to pull out the bug nets (a true fashion statement). Having crashed on energy on the climb up Glastenbury and knowing our days were only going to get longer, we’d done an inventory of remaining food the night before and we re-bagged meals and snacks by day to ensure we weren’t eating too much on any given day (we needed to get out of these woods alive!) and that we were able to plan our efforts around stopping to refuel our bodies as we went.

As part of that plan, we scheduled a mid-morning stop at Story Spring shelter for some electrolytes and jerky. We were grateful our plans didn’t involve staying there as the shelter itself was very old and the tent sites were not impressive. We moved on from there to get some miles under our belt with a new mentality, we’d finish our “morning miles”, stop for a legitimate, cooked lunch and then take on a whole other climb in the afternoon, refreshed and refueled. Mentally, this plan helped us break up our longest day of hiking to date.

We ended up stopping impulsively at a beautiful stream with a fire pit and sunny, open areas where we could lay out some wet gear while we ate. We cooked noodles, added cheese and crackers and jerky. It was a regular feast! I impressed HT with my stream dishwashing savvy and he filtered water for the rest of our day’s journey.

The climb up Stratton Mountain was intense. We passed day-hiker after day hiker looking fresh as daisies and wondered if we were crazy for being as tired as we were. Of course we failed to note in the moment that we had heavy packs on and had already completed 4.5 hours of tough hiking that morning. That being said, we weren’t passed once (not that we’re counting).  The view from the top of the water tower was pretty darn impressive. We were so beat by that point, having hiked at least a 13 mile day and knowing at least another 3.2 awaited us before camp…but we took a minute to take some pics from the top. We also both gave our moms a call to let them know were were alive and on track to meet my mom in Manchester the following day.

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Stratton Pond Shelter

Here’s where the day gets interesting—and we wish it hadn’t. We descended the 3.2 (ish) miles from Stratton Mountain to Stratton Pond, checked out the shelter (a nice one, by shelter standards) and decided to make the trek to the tent sites on the other side of the pond. I’d also taken a painful fall partway down the hill but was pushing through hip pain ’cause the end was in sight!

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We’d been tipped off by hikers at the top of the mountain that the quick and easy route to the tent sites was seriously flooded as a result of “beaver activity”, meaning we had to hike an extra 2+ miles AROUND the pond to get to the sites. At this point, we’d also been told by some hikers at the shelter that the tent sites on the other side of the pond were already taken, but we (stupidly) decided to see for ourselves.

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This probably wasn’t smart, considering how tired and hungry we already were, but we had it in our minds that we would be tenting on the water, swimming and frolicking in untouched Vermont waters, etc, etc, so we set off around the pond….ON THE WRONG TRAIL (the Stratton Pond Trail-which you would THINK would lead to the pond). It was a stupid mistake (that we were not the first or last to make) but it was really painful to have to turn on my phone 1.5 miles into the woods to confirm that we had in fact hiked away from the pond instead of around it, thus, bringing our day’s mileage total to somewhere around 18 miles once we backtracked, set up camp near the shelter on a flat stretch of the “old” AT and accepted our defeat.

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After all of that though, we still managed to make our way to the South end of the pond, swim, wash clothes and make dinner on the water while we watched an intense storm roll in (I did not take this picture but this is the view we had until the storm clouds appeared). We sprinted the painful quarter mile back to our tent just in time for the skies to open up and enjoyed a rainy evening in our tent, properly (eh?) bathed for the first time in days. It was actually a really nice night, after all.

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DAY 5

Heading out in the morning, we meandered the trail away from the pond, crossing the first bridge of many for the day. We decided to switch it up and hike a couple miles before making breakfast, so we stopped at a creek to make oatmeal and fill up on water.
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We figured by the end of this hiking day we probably crossed 30 creeks, streams or small rivers. The first 5 miles of this day of hiking were mucky, muggy and buggy. It wasn’t the beautiful, cushy pine forest floor we’d encountered at higher altitudes and it got old, fast. We were amazed to eventually be dumped out on a dry forest road, where we were able to walk side-by-side for a short stretch, a first for the trail to this point. The road led to Prospect Rock, a beautiful lookout point where we ate some jerky and checked in with my mom to make sure she’d returned safely from the long bike ride she planned up Bromley Mountain that morning (she’s badass!). We knew at this point that she would be waiting for us, so that refreshed our mental state a bit for the remaining miles.
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HT looks so rugged, but I have a feeling his beard is in a whole new category by now…
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We passed a few turnoffs for shelters (William B Douglas and Spruce Peak) that we opted not to check out and continued our trek toward our goal, the intersection of  VT-11/30. The trick of it was that we could see and hear the road for MILES before we reached the road crossing. That’s always the way, isn’t it?  The last few miles of the trail were insanely muddy. It almost felt like the universe wanted me to remember the Long Trail for the nickname it’s earned… VERMUD.

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I felt real relief stepping into that parking lot in Manchester, being greeted by our very own trail angel (thanks Mom!), handed an orange soda and a sandwich made only of fresh veggies, then a freezing cold Long Trail Ale. HT requested an icy cold Coke and said it was the best he’s ever tasted.

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We stayed over night at the Sutton’s Place Guest House in Manchester where Frank was our host. He was enthusiastic about our hike, sympathetic to our desires to dry out the tent and gear in the back yard and helpful with restaurant recommendations. The accommodations were comfortable for hikers, not perfectly clean or updated but perfect for our needs, considering where we’d slept the 4 nights previous. I did like his hiker theme pillow and HT liked that he had NASCAR coverage on his living room TV. Funny note: I had no clothes with me but my trail clothes, so I wore all my mom’s clothes from here on out, with a SmartWool sports bra and no makeup—stylish! HT of course, had no wardrobe options, poor guy.

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We ate at the Double Hex per a recommendation from a UVM friend who grew up in Manchester, delish. I was thrilled to find Switchback on the menu (a Burlington brew, only available in VT!) and HT was amazed to find local birch beer on the menu—he had spent the two days prior on the trail talking about how his ideal dream beverage would be birch beer, of all things.

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The next morning we chowed amazing pancakes, mexican eggs and killer scones at Up For Breakfast before taking HT back to the trail for a mid-morning sendoff.

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(the sun was SO bright, that’s why the face…)

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It was a bittersweet feeling putting HT back on the trail, alone. I’ve thought about him in the woods every couple hours since then and eagerly await updates as he comes into towns every few days. I am impressed and in awe of his journey so far, now that I know first hand what it’s like being out there. And in the past week in Vermont…the rain just won’t let up, so I look forward to welcoming him back home with clean clothes and home cooked dinners. As of right now if all goes as planned, I think I’ll drive up to Jay Peak to pick him up at the end of his journey, on the Canadian border, next weekend. Can’t wait!

All told, I loved that we did this section of the Long Trail together. I loved most of the scenery, I loved that the hike meandered through Vermont, home of my collegiate alma mater and I loved achieving a goal like this one. That said, in HT’s words “Our next vacation is to a beach. Without a doubt.”

( And he’ll update you on his solo portion of the hike when he returns to civilization, I’m sure.)

Thanks for hangin’ in through my world’s longest post!

Blue Bin Signature

Also, knowing what you know now…

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2 Responses to “Mud, Sweat & Tears: The Long Trail 2013”

  1. jaydn July 12, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    I would be inspired by this story even if I was NOT your mom (and temporary trail angel). You are awesome!

    • bluebinbarbie July 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

      Awww. Love ya. On and off the trail! Wanna come on a short weekend trip this fall? XO

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