Final big view from Jay Peak in northern Vermont on the Long Trail.
General Blog, hiking

Long Trail Journal 6

Back in August 2018, I decided to go hike the Long Trail with my dog, Benny. The trail starts at the very bottom of Vermont and winds its way up to the very top meeting with Canada. After hiking 270 miles with everything on your back, staying in one of the 25 shelters each night and summiting more than 20 peaks, Benny and I finished the trail in 16 days. Here I’m going to share my journal thoughts from each night. This is part 6, the final part!

Enjoy!

August 29, Day 14: Spruce Ledge Shelter

This northern section is killing me. Can’t tell if it’s the lack of sleep, lack of vegetables, partial dehydration or the miles, but I can barely get the miles in. Not really how I was hoping to feel at the end, but I guess there’s not much to be done about it except suck it up and tough it out. Not like I can quit this close to being almost done, that’d just be stupid.

But I am hella psyched to sleep in a real bed and take a shower and not move more than 500 steps on Saturday. Which is the plan. Maybe go buy a huge ass salad and some ice cream and not move from the couch or bed all day.

That old feeling of being tired for no real reason is coming back. But maybe out here its just because I haven’t slept through the night since starting this hike. Which is still totally worth it. Just wish these final miles didn’t feel so incredibly slow and painful.

Benny the hiking dog showing off his balance skills on the footpath on the Vermont Long Trail.
Benny showing off his balance skills on one of the many bog boards.

Did meet someone trying for the FKT (fastest known time) at the shelter last night. He came in late and left super early, but sent me a message onInstagram. When I’m back in service I’ll have to reply. Lots of people out trying to break records this year.

Maybe I’ll do something like that someday.

It feels like all the energy has been sucked out of me and there is nothing left besides aching ankles, weird rashes and dirt. Why am I feeling like this?

Dan was like you should try to finish on Thursday (tomorrow). I’d have to do 10 more miles today and do 25 tomorrow. No fucking way. Going to have to finish Friday, which is still pretty good.

Nothing hugely notable or exciting about the day. Did have a pretty view from Laraway Mountain, feels like I was there days ago. Maybe this is what happens when you don’t take any nero or zero days. Don’t really remember feeling this tired on the AT, maybe I’m not eating the right things now? Not sure.

Hopefully, and as vain and stupid as this is, I think I’ve lost at least a few pounds. Maybe enough to be in the 130s. That’d be nice.

When I’m moving, I don’t think about my body and all its flaws I’m just moving one step after another. As soon as I stop I can see all the imperfections again. Instead of seeing how beautiful the woods are I see thighs that touch. Instead of noticing the way sunlight dapples and sparkles on the leaves, I see extra stomach rolls. I see all the flaws that I am and nothing else.

But when I’m moving, walking up and down, step after step, I can see the beauty. I can feel the breeze and taste the hint of fall in the late summer air. I feel how strong I can be even when I feel weak. When I walk the flaws silence and somehow I become just a bit more confident, a bit braver, a bit stronger, and a bit more independent.

Maybe that’s why I hike. Because it allows me to see the best bits of me. Because I feel more confident covered in dirt and sweat, washed for days, grime so worn in I can’t scrub it out, so tired and exhausted it hurts to think.

When I hike I am allowed to be more me than anywhere else.

View looking down from the fire tower on Mount Belvidere on the Vermont Long Trail.
View from the fire tower on Mount Belvidere, look close and you’ll see Benny at the bottom!

From the shelter here you can see the fire tower of the next mountain, Mount Belvidere. It’s .2 off the trail, but it seems like the tower might be worth it. Last fire tower I’ll probably go up for a while.

Last full day of hiking tomorrow too. Crazy it’s nearly at the end.

Hiking this I’ve felt so many emotions from happiness to sadness to awe to gratitude and pleasure and so much more.

I wish I could give an accurate description of how beautiful things here are. To how beautiful it is to be alone and how sad it is to feel lonely. I’ve only felt it in bits and pieces but it is still there.

There’s this older NoBo couple at the shelter, cute how they interact with each other.

August 30, Day 15: Hazen’s Notch Camp

Finally feel like I can hike again. Maybe I just haven’t eaten enough the past few days. Funny how a little bit of trail magic (leftover peanut butter, sausage, and raisins) can give you that bit of extra energy you need. Next hiking trip I think I need to plan out my food better. Maybe do some dehydrating ahead of time. Or just not eat everything the first night after resupplying.

But this is officially the last day on the trail, well last full day anyways. One more night in a shelter then I’m off to a shower and soft mattress. Super excited!

Photo of Benny the hiking dog in the Hazen Notch Shelter on the last night of the Vermont Long Trail.
Last night in the shelter! Had it all to ourselves.

Last shelter night. Last night of tiny stove cooking and dehydrated food. Last night of charging electronics with a battery and sleeping in a bag.

Last time sleeping in a shelter alone.

So glad Benny has been with me. All these lone shelter stays would be a lot more lonely without him.

Sometimes I wonder why people actually like me. Or if I am invited anywhere, sometimes I just think its because it’s a joke or they feel bad for me. Who would really want to invite me anywhere anyways?

I’m the weird girl who goes on hikes that last too long and can’t stop talking about that one time in Vietnam. I’m too quiet when I shouldn’t be, too loud when I should be silent. I can never say the right thing and when I’m alone all these horrible self-hating thoughts dump in my brain.

The author getting dog kisses from Benny the hiking dog on the last night on the Vermont Long Trail.
Somehow dog kisses are never gross.

I can feel so loved one moment and then so unwelcomed and strange the next. So incredibly supported by everyone around me and yet an island by myself.

Am I going to look at my hands one day and wonder how I’ve gotten so old? Am I going to be shocked by the wrinkles and loose skin and not know what I did with all my years?

The rest of the day was cloudy and grey. I do like days like that. Where doing anything seems above and beyond since these should be meant for staying in bed and watching movies. It felt like fall.

Cool tonight. All my clothes are on. This time tomorrow I’llbe on my way home. I am happy to go home, to a house I worked hard on, to a boyfriend who loves me, to roommates and chickens. But sometimes it hurts.

The house. The adulating. The huge amount of responsibilities sometimes feels just a bit too heavy.

August 31, Day 16: Home

Last morning eating oatmeal out of an empty peanut butter container. Last morning leaving a shelter, drinking instant coffee. I’m ready for it to be the last but miss the simplicity of the trail already.

Summit view from the top of Jay Peak, the last big mountain on the Vermont Long Trail.
View from the top of Jay Peak.

Topped out at Jay a bit before 11:30am, hope to be finished by 5pm or so. Should be able to make it. Dan’s sick, so Mom gets to pick me up.

Photo of the downhill side of Jay Peak, less than 10 miles to Canada on the Vermont Long Trail.
Heading back down into the woods off of Jay Peak, less than 10 miles to go!

Wonder if I can see Canada from here, still feels crazy that I’m basically done. I should feel accomplished, but I don’t. I should feel happy or something like that but I don’t. It’s almost like a dread feeling or something the feeling of going back into a world I’m not fully sure I know how to survive in.

Not sure I fully know how to act in this world where you should feel at home in a home, not longing to leave it for adventure and dirt and unknown places. Why do I want to be in rooms full of strangers trying to communicate in a language I barely understand. Why do I want to feel scared and homesick and uncertain of the next day or what the next hour will bring?

But hiking gives that to me. So I’m going to keep hiking because the thirst of adventure can only be momentarily silenced. 

Benny and I finished the Long Trail around 5:30pm. Took the obligatory finish line photos and ate a snickers bar in celebration. My mom picked me up and swung me by a gas station so I could get an ice cream sandwich and a bag of skittles. And of course a dog treat for Benny!

The Long Trail was not everything I hoped it would be, but it gave me more than I expected as well. It showed me how supported I am, how much I am loved and that I would follow Benny anywhere.

Final photo of Benny the hiking dog on the Vermont Long Trail at the border of Canada in Northern Vermont.
Finish photo on the Long Trail, Benny is a trooper!

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