AT Day 159: Return of the Climb

The way passing time and miles are so bound on the trail is most evident to me at its ends. It was a slow, proud, backwards-looking crawl at the beginning, asking “How far have I gone? Can I survive another day or week?” But has twisted to approaching deadline, “How far do I have to go today? Can I make it by this day, or week?” Hikers are buying bus or plane tickets home, fearing their expiring visas, and watching their faster friends’ summit photos roll by on social media, with 400 miles left to go.

The last stretch of Massachusetts was familiar, going over low hills separated by roadwalks through quaint towns, all in the rain. My boots were failing, with some hundreds of extra miles on them past my intended replacement point back in Delaware Water Gap. Aesthetic defects grew into holes down to my socks, with thick layers of rubber thrashed and torn, giving the appearance that some great beast had gnawed and rended them to pieces. Thankfully, especially to the shoe designers, the tread was still intact. My experience back in Franklin, NC with the mere three options in my size should have been a warning: I really had gotten lucky with those boots. After calling ahead or stopping in to every spot since the water gap, cursing each time, a store finally had a pair in the make and size I required. They were low-tops, more a “hiking shoe” than a boot, but with Pennsylvania’s ankle-breakers behind me, I decided bigfooted beggars can’t be choosers and took the plunge. They fit just the same as the mid-tops, but lighter and with slightly less sole. Part of this is due to their lack of waterproofing; just in time for Vermont.

Vermont, like ‘Rocksylvania’ before it, is not-so-fondly-or-cleverly called ‘Vermud’ for its thick mud and many puddles. Woof! It became a game, and sometimes I was able to keep my shoes, feet and socks dry but for sweat for hours, even whole days. But the unyielding rain of the past few months had already taken its toll; my feet were overpruned with an early stage of trenchfoot. Before you go to Bing Images or Wikipedia, know that I caught it at a point closer to a particularly nasty athletes foot. Small bubble-looking holes covered the balls of my feet and toes, over thick, swollen callus-like pads, and I’d even started losing feeling in one toe. After learning I wasn’t alone in this, we sent the hiker with the best insurance to get checked out, and an over-the-counter old person rub has made quick work of the affliction. No amputations necessary!

Outside of the foot fungi, Vermont was a green dream. The Long Trail served as an inspiration for the AT, and the two trails overlap for the first half of the state. The historical protection of the lands made for a lush and diverse woods, with some of the higher mountains we’ve climbed in a while, often topped with fire towers to lend views of the surrounding Green Mountain range. Spotted along the way were more New England-y towns, but with the laid back Vermontian quality one might expect.

Good fortune of timing continues to be great gift to me along the trail. A great friend and Vermont native happened to be breaking back home from teaching in Japan while I passed through the state. I took a detour to visit him in his hometown, about an hour’s drive off trail, for a fun and unexpected zero day. Coming back placed me alone on trail again for a bit, between two large trail families and away from familiar folks that had either not zero’d or done a double. I was tempted to return from a road crossing, but found myself enjoying the solitude before too long, and eventually getting to know a new friend on the way into New Hampshire.

This stretch has also marked the intersection with the bubble of Southbound hikers, or “SOBOs”, or “SouBous” as I like to say. Most of them are kind and courteous, or even congratulatory, but others are a more sour sort. The worst SouBous are also the fewest: those with the audacious notion that because they’ve gone through Maine and New Hampshire, they are better and more capable than the Northbounders they pass; arrogance blinding them to the fact we’ve gone four times the distance and for as much as five times the days. The smaller but still annoying group talks at length about how these last two states are the best on trail, the most spectacular views we will ever see and enjoy, and the most difficult hikes. It’s been a growing pet peeve of mine to be told how I’ll experience something, and the idea that nothing as of yet can compare to the last 400 miles makes me think going South must be a letdown.

So far the White Mountains have been a challenge, but nothing unachievable. The mountains are more steep, the trail more technical, and the stakes higher. I’ve known my pace would slow through them, and bad weather already forced me to stop shy of my target once to avoid being above treeline in a thunderstorm. I’m currently in Lincoln, NH for the second time, as the trail passes roads to it twice. I’ve remet with Giggles and some of the “Caboose Crew” Uncle Ya hiked with (though he has shot ahead), and tomorrow an old friend and camping companion from high school is meeting me to hike a section over Labor Dabor weekend. We’ll hopefully make it over Mt. Washington with him, if the weather holds out.

See you soon,

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