Friday, September 14, 2012

Sorry I Ate Your Wedding Chocolate: VT Part 3 (Aug7th-13th)

We woke the next morning excited for town (as usual) but unsure of exactly how many miles it was due to AWOL's error.  If definitely ended up being more like seven miles instead of five, but eventually we arrived at US 4.  When I got to the road, I didn't see Pants, so I assumed he already got a hitch in.  I stuck out my thumb and immediately got picked up by a french lady who had been living in the area awhile.  Just as I was putting my pack in the trunk, Pants came stomping out of the forest, yelling at me to wait.  Apparently he had stopped in Churchill Scott Shelter and was actually behind me.  He swooped in the car and we asked to be dropped off in the center of town near the Walmart.  Rutland is one of the larger towns we hit on the trail, pop. 63,000, so it actually has some stuff.  We went straight to the Subway as we were starved and that was the quickest way to get food in our bellies.  Afterwards we thought we might check out this Yellow Deli hostel nearby.  We weren't planning on staying, but were hoping to procure some showers and laundry.  We wandered over and walked into the cafe at the bottom.  We talked to a man who lead us upstairs to the hostel part to show us around.  I noticed everyone there was wearing mu mus of some type, and after talking to the guy a bit more it became apparent that we were in some type of "spiritual community."

We started our laundry and showered and passed our time in the common area and the rooftop patio that had a hammock.  This hostel was really nice....Pants and I weighed the pros and cons of staying.  It was a nice, clean hostel, the hammock out back was perfect for a lazy afternoon of reading, they made really good food and smoothies downstairs at their cult cafe, and we could go see a movie, a real treat:) Cons: well, it was a cult.  But Pants and I both agreed we were impervious to cultish wooing, so we pretended to drink the Kool-Aid and decided to stay.  I did as intended, lounge in that hammock all afternoon, until we decided to go to dinner downstairs.  It was delicious, and our new cult friends gave me some banana milk to try which was excellent.  During dinner, we got a text from Gribley and DS, they had made it to town.  They had just resupplied and were next door at the bar eating dinner.  They didn't want to stay at the cult and were going to take the bus back out to the trail and camp just out of town.  We grabbed a beer with them, but had to say our goodbyes early since we were heading to the movies to see Ted (which was hilarious, I really need to acquire some of Giovanni Ribsi's dance moves).  After the movie I went back to the cafe to have a cup of tea and try to get caught up on my journal which is a losing battle.  One of the elders was at a table next to me going over a bunch of stuff with a young girl.  I noticed she had been there all day working, but she wasn't wearing the smock, so I assumed she was in the process of joining their community.  He told her she would be sleeping in the hostel that night, when another girl came over to say that the hostel had filled while she was working and she would have to sleep on the couch.  The girl looked really bummed, I mean she had worked all day and wasn't even getting a bed.  I felt bad for her so I offered her my bed, I'm used to sleeping on the ground anyway.  I finished my tea and went up to claim my couch.  It was actually a decently comfy couch and I slept fine.

The spiritual community we stayed with
The next day we ate delicious muffins the cult made for us and we said our goodbyes.  We were gonna take the bus over to the mall to go to the EMS.  I had bought some new insoles at the one in Manchester Center and they had cracked already, and my hiking shirt was basically a few pieces of thread hanging off my body.  We got there right when they opened and the girl was really helpful in finding me the right Superfeet. We grabbed the bus back to the center of Rutland and switched lines to get dropped off at the trailhead.  We hopped on and at no point did any other passengers get on, so we just told the driver we wanted the AT trailhead on Rt. 4.  She said she knew where most of the hikers got off, so I sat back and waited for our arrival.  Instead, we flew past the trailhead and she deposited us at The Inn at Long Trail, about a mile past the trailhead we wanted.  The problem was, most hikers don't go into town via hitching off Rt. 4.  They cross the road, hike another two miles to a 1/2 mile side trail that leads you straight to the Inn. Hikers usually stay there and take the bus in and out of town.  She assumed that's what we wanted to do and when we explained that we actually needed the trailhead a mile back, she said we could either stay on the bus while she finished her loop and she would drop us on the way back, or we could get off and wait and she would grab us on the way back.  Well in 30 minutes we could just walk the mile down the road so we decided to get off. 

Most hikers would just say screw it and hike the 1/2 mile side trail back to the AT, skipping those two miles.  But Pants and I were intent on hiking every step of the AT, so we wanted to get back on where we left off.  After we got off the bus we turned around to face the Inn and noticed it had an Irish pub attached....we hadn't had lunch yet...we thought we might just pop in for a beer and a burger and then head out....Well obviously we never headed out. McGrath's Irish Pub was a really fun and super hiker friendly place.  We hung out there all night and watched the Olympics, retiring later to one of the rooms at the Inn, which had an awesome hiker rate.  The owner told us the longest a hiker has stayed was 2 weeks or something crazy.  We had no intention of doing that, but we did just take an accidental zero.  Well if you want to get technical, our total millage for the day was -1, as the next morning we had to walk down the road just to get back to the trail.  I blame the bus driver. 

We had an awesome breakfast in the pub the next morning and hit the road, then the trail.  We had to pass through Gifford Woods State Park, which was full of car campers.  Never having been a car camper, and most obviously not one now, I never understood the appeal.  I realize there are many who don't understand the appeal of what I'm doing, but if you want to go camping,  you want to get out and enjoy nature I assume?  You're gonna park your car next to your tent and sit next to a bunch of other car tents and walk over to your coin-op showers?  To each their own, but I'm telling you, the places roads don't go are far more amazing than anything you'll see sitting in your tent site #12 next to your car in your state park.  And if you're concerned about having to carry your stuff, well then don't bring so much shit.  You don't need it.  We always see these weekend warriors out with these 70lbs packs, all the thru-hikers wondering what the fuck they have in there?!?  My pack is under 35lbs always and if I can survive on that for 6 months, I'm sure you could make do for a weekend.  Just give it a try is all I'm'll be worth it. If you want to go camping that is. 

We exited the park and strolled around Kent Pond until we came upon a very quaint little scene.  The AT crosses the property of Mountain Meadows Lodge.  We came across their boat dock and decided to have lunch up on their grassy hill, where there were two beach chairs calling our names.  We ate a leisurely lunch while looking at the pond, then I proceeded to explore the property.  They were also a small farm with a variety of animals, including a small pony, goats, a sheep and a fat pig named Alice.  While I was admiring the animals I heard someone call my name from a window. Headin Out and Taggin Along where up in a room.  They had gotten there yesterday and were zeroing today to rest Taggin Along's hips.  SOS and Trail Momma were there too.  They said the place was empty but for them and asked if we were staying.  Pants and I looked at each other skeptically....well we hadn't planned on it, but now that you mention it....

We got our room, this place was so mom and pop they didn't even have keys to the rooms. We immediately noticed some delicious looking chocolates on the dresser.  We quickly popped them into our mouths as we laid back to watch an episode of 30 Rock.  All the sudden some random girl just walked into our room and looked surprised to see us there.  She explained she was having her wedding here this weekend and that she had put some stuff in the room and if we wouldn't mind just leaving it be.  We told her we didn't notice anything and she motioned to the chocolates that used to be on the dresser.  Apparently we ate her fancy monogrammed wedding chocolate.  She looked annoyed.  But look lady, if you don't have these rooms booked for another 2 nights you probably shouldn't be leaving stuff in them.  I was told to go to this room, there was chocolate, I ate it.  Sorry.  The annoyed bride to be left and Pants and I continued our laziness in peace, getting up only to greet the pizza guy.

Mountain Meadows

The next day when we realized it had taken us 3 days to go 4 miles, and we vowed to actually make an attempt to get out of VT.  We packed up and began our climb up Quimby Mountain.  The only thing I have to say for Quimby is DANG.  And I thought I was a bitch.  Pants and I recovered on a boulder at the top.  It started to sprinkle so I moved on.  Pants, the most exhausted I've seen him, seemed content sitting in the rain.  I made my way down to Stony Brook Shelter and had some lunch.  the rest of the day was boring and uneventful, mostly because it rained all day.  I finally made it to Winturri Shelter, happy with my 15 mile day and ready to get out of the rain.  I ate dinner with Longstride, Silvergirl and Count Chocula while waiting for a break in the rain to set my tent up when Pants finally arrived.  The water source there was rubbish, a pool that had a small flow over a rock that I was able to pipe with a leaf but it still took forever to fill.  Camp chores done, (at this point dinner is considered a camp chore as I never look forward to what I have to eat) I retired to my tent ready to finally warm up. 

Orange guy

I woke up the next day with my heart set on doing 20 miles to Happy Hill Shelter.  That would put me six miles outside of Hanover and (drum roll please) NEW HAMPSHIRE!  Looking at the elevation profile, that looked impossible as the entire day was a mini roller coaster.  I counted 12 peaks (albeit small ones) to climb over before Happy Hill.  Constantly going up and down is often more exhausting than just a few big climbs.  Regardless, I thought I'd give it a shot.  I informed Pants of my plans and bid him adieu.  I climbed Ascutney Mt. with ease, struggled a bit more on the steep Dana Hill and began my mini roller coaster over three nameless peaks.  I stopped atop the 3rd to have lunch with a nice view.  The entire lunch break was spent watching a very suspicious looking cloud creep closer to me.  The leaves were acting suspicious as well, blowing around and what not.  Not wanting to get caught in the rain with my lunch goods spread about, and starting to feel like a nut job sitting there by myself giving the trees the evil eye, I ate quickly and moved on.  I can absolutely not wait for the day when it starts raining and I can say to myself "Well I guess I'll go inside."  When I can sit and enjoy a meal without having to watch every movement of some dark lurking cloud.  Anywho, I made my way down to Cloudland Rd. and had a nice field walk up the hill to Thistle Hill Shelter.  I blew past the shelter planning on getting water at the bottom of the hill at Dimick Brook.  It was 3pm and I was a little over 8 miles from my goal, totally doable.  Pleased with myself, I continued my descent down Thistle Hill, which included brief interruptions by two smaller hills.

I climbed up and over Bunker Hill, and slowly, a horrible pain started happening in my shoes.  Every step I took was resulting in severe toe pain.  Along with the insoles, I got new boots in Rutland.  That coupled with the fact that I had been walking in wet socks all day resulted in some serious chaffing of my toes.  Trying to break in new boots and new insoles by doing 20 miles with wet socks was proving to be one of my poorer decisions.  I tried to ignore it but every step I took was painful.  It was only 5:30 and I was just four miles shy of my goal, but I decided I needed to stop.  Just as I stood there making that decision it started to downpour. Awesome.  I made my way to the stream at the bottom of the hill to fill up on water and looked for a flat spot to camp.  I crossed some treacherous looking bog boards over another stream and found a flat spot on top of a ridge.  I went about the unfortunate business of setting up my tent in the pouring rain.  There really is no way to do this without getting everything you own soaking wet.  I thought briefly about limping my way the 4 miles to the shelter, but my feet were on the verge of tears.  So I put up my tent and crawled in and went about the process of drying myself off.

Like most hikers, I have a very small one man tent, so my pack doesn't fit inside.  It lives under the vestibule, so it is covered from the rain, but sits outside on the ground.  The one complaint I have about my tent is that the footprint (or groundcloth) is the exact size of my tent body.  I wish it would extend out to the area covered by the vestibule too.  That way, when I unknowingly set my tent up in moose poop, as I had just done, I would just have to clean off the bottom of my footprint, and not my pack and all of the items I have taken out and placed next to my pack.  It was dark and rainy and in the spastic setting up of my tent I had done something horrible to myself.  I was now sitting in the rain, in moose poop with bleeding feet.  Things have been better.  But the faint glimmer of light that was town tomorrow gave me the calm patience to slowly clean off my things, dry myself off, make some dinner and go to bed.

Around 11:30pm I was awoken by loud, boisterous drunken laughs.  I was camping about a 1/2 mile from a road, which led into West Hartford and under I-89.  I never normally camp so close to roads, but my feet were killing me and if I went on I would have had to walk at least another 1.5 miles, because once I got to that road I had a mile road walk ahead of me, including walking the I-89 underpass.  Camping near roads is one thing, camping ON roads just really isn't an option.  Unless I really want to get the feel for being homeless and sleep in the underpass, but I prefer to contain my homelessness to the woods.  So I had camped, by myself, near a road and there were now drunk locals wandering towards me.  I contemplated my options.  Well, they could be nice drunk locals, politely apologize for stumbling upon my camp and waking me up and go on their merry way.  Or they could be crazy killers out to rape and pillage.  My overactive imagination went with the latter.  I did a weapons inventory:  a small Gerber blade, 2 trekking poles and a small stash of moose poop grenades.  My best option to avoid these foes was to leave, quickly. 

I packed up my wet, shitty stuff quickly by red lamp so they wouldn't see my light, getting nervous as they were getting closer.  I figured I would just walk farther into the woods, back over the rickety wooden planks I crossed before.  They probably wouldn't come that far in and probably don't have the coordination required to cross the bog boards.  As I was hiking deeper into the woods, I laughed at the irony of the situation.  When I started this trip, many moons ago, I was a bit nervous to be in the woods by myself, let alone in the woods at night by myself.  Now here I was, four months later, hiking deeper into the woods by myself at night to feel safer.  I feel completely comfortable and safe in the woods, day and night.  The only scary thing out here is us.  In fact,  I think the only truly terrifying thing about the natural world is us and the things that we conjure.

I walked about another 1/2 mile deeper into the woods until I felt certain I was far enough back.  Exhausted, I set up my tent right on the side of the trail, didn't bother to stake it out (it's semi-free standing), didn't bother with the rain fly or the air mattress, just put my sleeping bag down and went to bed.  I got up at 5am to pack up, though it would have been nice to sleep a little later, but being my tent was practically on the trail and there are some early birds out there, I thought I should get out of the way.  I was also ready to pound out these 10 miles and get to town.  I hiked back to the road, turned right and began my road walk through West Hartford.  Obviously nothing was open as it was 6am, but I was a bit dismayed to learn I would have had a place to stay in town for free. There was a sign making business that had a sign (shocking) indicating hikers could camp in back and have access to their water and bathrooms. I could have avoided the entire rainy moose poop drunken local fiasco if I had just walked the 1/2 mile into town.  But how was I to know a random sign store would let me sleep in the safety of it's backyard. I made a mental note for my next thru-hike (yeah right) and continued to the I-89 underpass.

I made my way to Happy Hill Shelter and paused to break without bothering to go in the shelter.  I hobbled the remaining 4 miles down Happy Hill to Elm St. in Norwich, VT.  From here it was a bit over two miles of road walking.  Down Elm St. for one mile, then east on Main St. for 1.4 miles right over the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire.  Like the PA/NJ border, the line was actually on the bridge.  Main St. would lead me straight into the center of Hanover and Dartmouth College.  But before I did any of this I decided to stop and see what the hell was going on with my toes. It was truly becoming unbearable.  I plopped myself down right on the side of the road, took off my boots, peeled off my socks and recoiled in horror.  My pinkie toes had been replaced by 2 bloody stumps. Most of the skin had been completely chaffed off.  I immediately went about the process of cleaning them, applying antibiotic and wrapping them.  I then decided to forgo putting my boots back on and hiked the 2 1/2 miles in my sandals.  I would never normally do this, they are flimsy and offer no support considering the weight I'm carrying, but I couldn't stand the thought of putting my boots back on.

Just as I was finishing up my impromptu foot servicing, an older guy started walking down the street towards me.  He had no pack, but had a long beard, and was wearing hiking clothes and crocs so I assumed he was a hiker.  His name was Semper Fi and had already been in the area for three days.  He walked with me all the way into Hanover, telling me everything I needed to know about the town. He thought it was the most hiker friendly town he had been too. Hikers got free coffee and donuts at the bakery, a free slice of pizza at the pizza place, the Mountain Goat Outfitter gave hikers a snickers bar and the Dartmouth Outing Club (which actually maintained the section of the trail north of Hanover) let hikers use their building as a post to store packs while in town and had computers for us to use as well.  The only negative was that there really wasn't anywhere affordable to stay.  The only hotel, the Hanover Inn, which was conveniently located in the center, catered more to the rich Dartmouth parents and not the hikers.  But the DOC had so kindly put together a list of 10-12 locals who would let hikers stay at their homes for free.  Semper was staying at Wayne's, who actually lived back in Norwich and was the first house I passed coming out of the woods.  Normally there is a free bus that runs between the two towns but not on weekends, which it was, which is why he was walking.

We got to the bridge and I took my first joyous steps into NH!!  I asked Semper to take a picture of me with the border sign, but being an older gentleman that has never touched an iPhone, I later saw that I ended up with two close ups of his nose instead.  Oh well.  I was in NH and nothing could ruin the happiness that gave me.  We finally arrived in Hanover, which was the most adorable and quaint college town I ever did see.  Right in front of me was the giant grassy mall, to my right the Hanover Inn and Main St. which was full of restaurants, shops and co-eds milling about.  Semper and I parted ways and I migrated towards a bench in the mall.  I just wanted to sit.  I found who other than Spirit also having a good sit.  She had been in town a day and was staying another to see a chiropractor about her hip.  Everyone was falling apart.  Good thing we only had the hardest section left.  She handed me a list of strangers I could go stay with, and while normally I would be thrilled to have a house to stay at for free, at that precise moment as I sat with my bleeding feet, soaking shit covered gear and puffy two hours of sleep eyes, I was really craving my own nice personal space.  Not a cult, not a pub, not a wedding animal farm, just a nice normal hotel room.  I can honestly say that was the moment I was starting to get a bit tired of the hiking and camping portion of my hiking and camping trip across America. 

Rather than make any decisions I continued to sit in the grass and wait for Pants.  I know he had gotten to Thistle Hill Shelter just when it started to rain and assumed he just stayed there, which meant he had farther to hike today.  When he arrived I learned that he had actually left and camped literally on the south side of the stream I had crossed and tried to camp by.  He had found a flat spot up the hill a bit so he wasn't right on the trail, but that means I walked right past him during my retreat from the drunks, and again in the wee hours of the morning.  We had a good laugh at this after which Pants stopped and said to me "You look awful."  I told him the Hanover Inn was $170, then showed him the list of people we could stay with.  He could tell by the look on my face that I was ready to just fork over the money to have my own space for a night and just rest.  The fancy hotel it was.  We were excited to play 'real people' for once instead of the usual 'Can I put my tent up here?' We decided we would stay two nights to rest up before the Whites.  Even though I was currently exhausted, the nervous excitement I had for the Whites was building up inside me.  But first, I had to clean the moose shit off my stuff. 

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