The Long Trail was the first long-distance hiking trail in the US, running 280 miles through Vermont along the spine of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. I have spent time on the trail before doing day hikes, but have always wanted to make an extended adventure of it. So last Thursday, Alaina and I packed our bags and drove up to our established start point near Killington and set out on a five day journey. We have done lots of camping in our day, but most of it has been out of a car without the need to carry everything, so efficient packing was crucial. We stuffed a food bag with dried fruits and nuts, oatmeal, coffee and tea, peanut butter and jelly, bread, tuna, pasta, cheese, dry sausage, soup, Indian meals, chocolate and cookies. I constructed a stove out of a soda can and denatured alcohol, and we packed a tent and sleeping bags plus a few articles of clothing. A map and a guidebook showed us the way and we were off, leaving our car at 4:45 on Thursday and marching into the woods…
I love to travel, especially to unfamiliar places where I am constantly challenged by logistical and cultural differences. It is mind expanding to live temporarily in a new way and place. This trip was different. We knew exactly what we were going to be doing every day: lots of walking and some eating. Every night: sleeping. That’s all there was. I turned my phone off to avoid any contact with information away from the trail so the only dispatches I received were from fellow hikers and usually consisted of nice views and good water sources. All the noise from my highly connected world vanished and I was left with just survival to focus on: to sustain myself with food and water, stay safe and keep walking until an appropriate exit. It was mind-clearing and centering to be in the wilderness.
We walked 48 miles over five days and camped in four beautiful locations along the way. I had initially envisioned a slightly longer journey, but we found it slow going up and down 3 or 4 mountains a day, and around the third day I was reminded of one reason I love Vermont so much; in my four years at Middlebury, I learned to slow down and savor the days, but when I moved to New York I was caught up in the speed and efficiency of the city. I adapted to the pace of my new environment and lost a bit of my laid-back VT style. The hike came down to a choice of rushing towards a goal or slowing down to enjoy our surroundings. Accepting a slower pace meant more flexibility in our nightly stops, which led to some spectacular campsites with better energy and morale.
Sometimes in our travels, water is a constant source of stress. Tap water in many parts of the world is toxic, which can leave us very thirsty from poor planning. This hike was similar in that respect, where supplies needed constant replenishment, lest we find ourselves dry. There were many streams, but the presence of Giardia is a constant threat, so the water needed to be purified. We brought a UV light filter, which worked for two days before running out of batteries (rookie mistake to not have extras), so we had to boil our caches, which was a huge time and fuel suck. We were extremely lucky to find a spring on day four that basically solved our issues. It certainly makes you think about how much we take for granted our absolute greatest and most important resource in the world.
On the fifth day, we hiked out, conveniently crossing the Lincoln gap road, where we stuck out our thumbs and hopped in any car headed our direction that would stop for us. It took three rides from generous strangers to get back to where we had parked. We ate a meal we had been talking about since walking into the woods at the Irish Pub at The Inn at Long Trail then stiffly stuffed ourselves into the car and drove back to the city, from the Forest to the Jungle.
This was one of the most physically demanding activities I’ve ever participated in. I am still sore from the thousands of steps I took on the trail. Alaina, at 2/3 of my body size, was tested even more and was an incredible trooper through the hike. While I am always impressed with her ability to trek on, I am simply amazed at her camping abilities. She is a stage manager by trade and organizing necessary gear, toiletries, food and water is a complex task that requires logic and planning that she commands so well. She is, simply put, the best friend and camping partner anyone could ever hope for. The best part of this adventure for me was spending all those hours alone with her; I love my friends and family so much, but sometimes they can distract me from the person I love the most. It was an incredible experience to share with her and I am so grateful that I married someone willing to walk into the wild with me!