My Lovely Bride would be staying behind watching Rudy and Gretchen and recovering from her dental work. I knew that she would have preferred to be out in the woods sweating and getting bitten by mosquitoes and horse flies, but she graciously agreed to keep the home fires burning and care for the pups. She dropped me off at a very gloomy trailhead that reminded me of the forest in The Hobbit. The trail sign even looks like it’s being devoured by shrubs and vines.
We arrived in Rutland, Vermont, on Friday for Suzanne to have some urgent dental work performed. One of the sometimes difficult aspects of traveling for six months a year is arranging for medical, dental and veterinary services in towns scattered around the USA. (The vet work would be for Rudy and Gretchen, not Der Blogmeister, although I have been known to be “in the dog house” at times). About six weeks ago, when the pain started, we looked ahead to somewhere that we would be for a few days so she could have a crown made. Then Suzanne had to call our retired Navy dental insurance provider, look up local dentists who accepted that insurance (a much smaller number than the aggregate), and find one with an open appointment during our window in Rutland. She was relieved when she found an accommodating dentist and finally got in the chair for the work to be done. We celebrated by having a meal out; we also got to dress up a bit – and since the dental anesthesia had worn off, MLB wasn’t drooling. Smack! (Gee, I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned that…)
I was happy that she got her crown work completed quickly, for two reasons: her pain was gone and I was free to go backpacking on the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail near Rutland. For the uninitiated, the Long Trail is actually the oldest established trail in the USA, having been built from 1910 to 1930. It runs 273 miles from the Massachusetts/Vermont state line to the Canadian border (for north-bounders, or “NoBos”) and the reverse for ”SoBos”. From Mass to Killington, VT, the Long Trail is shared with the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mt. Katahdin, Maine, a total of 2,185 miles. The section I would be hiking was miniscule compared to the entire AT or LT, but for an old geezer, it would be a decent workout.
Over the next few hours I came to realize that the state in which I was hiking was mis-named. Vermont is adapted from the French, Vert(e) Mont, meaning Green Mountain, which also happens to be the given name for the range of mountains here. But I determined that the more accurate name of our 14th state should be Ver-Mud… the trails I was following were more than a little muddy… they were veritable streams of mud… and mosquito-ridden to boot. I had read several blogs that said when hiking the Long Trail, you had better steel yourself for having wet boots and socks for the duration. It was an accurate prediction. Part of the reason for wet boots and socks was the mud and puddles, of course, but the worst part of the trip was when I was crossing a brook and fell in. It was not a raging torrent. Nor was it a cascading cataract. This relatively modest stream was almost benign, except for the fact that the rocks were as slippery as if they had been glazed in glass or black ice – at least that was my impression when crossing rocks covered with moss and lichen. Even my two trusty trekking poles didn’t prevent my feet from sliding out from under me, depositing their owner ingloriously on his side in a foot of chilly water. The water was fresh, of course, but the Sailor Words which erupted from my mouth were actually quite salty. Fortunately, my camera was on the high side of my water-soaked body and my sleeping bag and spare clothes were wrapped in plastic garbage bags and thus came out dry. Even more fortunate was the fact that this misadventure was unobserved by other hikers… the only damage was a bruise or two and a few nicks on my left hand and wrist, which had taken the brunt of the force of the fall.
A few hours later I was chatting with a “shelter caretaker” at Little Rock Pond. Sabory works 5 days on, 2 off, all summer and until mid-October, at the Little Rock Pond LT/AT Shelter. She stays in a large tent on a wooden platform that keeps some of the creepy-crawlies at bay.
The Little Rock Pond shelter was relatively new, roomy and very clean. There was even a composting privy, a nice feature that many shelters on the Appalachian Trail do not have. (This allows one to skip digging a cat-hole and burying solid waste…) I shared this shelter with three other guys, all through-hikers, and I will admit to not getting a very restful night’s sleep because of one individual’s heavy snoring.
The shelter is located near a beautiful pond of the same name. There are said to be fish here, but as I hadn’t gotten a Vermont license, the fish were safe. (No smart comments, Bob.)
Over the next few days I met a dozen or so through-hikers, many in their fourth month of hiking the AT. These hikers, almost all male, do not use their real names, but “trail names” normally given by fellow through-hikers. Two bear special mention; both were very friendly and both happened to be from Georgia. “Grits” is a NoBo from Valdosta, and bears a striking resemblance to a famous country and western singer. He related that “Grits is not just a food; it’s a way of life.” Grits is on his second leg of his AT hike, having had surgery that took him off the trail for a year. But he is now only 500 miles or so from Mt. Katahdin and in fine form.
“Sugar Rush” is a SoBo from Dalton, Georgia, and got his trail name from having run low on food in southern Maine. He kept going by eating dozens of packets of sugar from a diner. Here we see him in a hammock rigged under a tarp; he chose this rig over a tent or shelter for comfort and privacy. It also allows him to stop virtually whenever and wherever he wants, rather than being obliged to stop at shelters (which are found about every 5-7 miles).
Der Blogmeister apologies for the tardiness of this blog, but Internet access in rural Vermont and New Hampshire has been a challenge. Primitive shelters do not have Wi-Fi, Keurig coffeemakers, cold beer, or even hot showers… Damn! (Well, for $5, and then only if there is a caretaker, what do you expect?)