The state of Vermont, dubbed The Green Mountain State, displays a defining and contrasting backdrop of verdant hills against a gray-blue sky. Vermont has “mud season,” which occurs between winter and spring; the period is known informally as Vermont’s “fifth season.” Hikers, trudging through the splattering mud, ascribe the term “Vermud” with much affection to refer to the slimy wet trail conditions in the Vermont section. At one point, the mud became so thick and soupy that one of my Altra hiking shoes was sucked right off, oozing mud from the insoles! Although branches and rocks are chucked into the muddy mire to aid the hiker with some traction, the water inevitably seeps up and the mud takes over. Miles of wooden bog bridges and puncheons have been installed over the years which do provide some relief in elevating the hiker over the viscous sludge; however, getting caked with mud is all part of the grand hiking experience of Vermont.
The Long Trail of Vermont, of which the Appalachian Trail (AT) shares a common treadway, is considered the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. The LT was constructed from 1910 to 1930 by the Green Mountain Club just before the darkest days of the Great Depression. Signs along the shared portions of trail are designated with the abbreviation “LT/AT” at trail junctions. The LT, at 273 miles long, runs the length of the state of Vermont and is part of what has become known as the Mini Triple Crown (MTC) of hiking, which includes the Long Trail (LT), the Colorado Trail (CT), and the John Muir Trail (JMT).
Soon after entering the Green Mountain National Forest while hiking in Vermont, I began to feel ill, experiencing flu-like symptoms. Pitstop had begun feeling sick a few days previously and so it was probable that I had come down with the same bug. Overcome with a throat-attacking virus, my neck glands swelled; even sipping water caused noticeable pain. My mileage dropped from 25 miles/day to 10 miles/day as a result of my ailing condition. Feeling feverish with violent chills, I knew it was necessary to get off trail to make a proper recovery. It is said that problems are compounded while on trail out in the backcountry, and sickness is no exception. It was decided that Pitstop’s longtime friend Ed who lived in Montpelier would pick me up at the Stratton trailhead on Kelley Stand Road and take me back to recover in Pitstop’s camper that was parked in Ed’s driveway. Ed kindly allowed me to ride in the back of his pickup truck which had a camper shell over the bed. Spending a week isolating in Montpelier, I sipped steamy soup, drank honey by the bottle, and sucked on eucalyptus lozenges—whatever I could do to get back hiking again! In no way did I want my ECT thru-hike to be compromised; it was just a setback, that’s all.
After my one-week quarantined detainment, Pitstop transported me back to the trail; and I resumed hiking precisely where I had gotten off. Arriving back to the trailhead, I was fueled by reassurance that everything was going to be alright. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, so course adjustments have to be made. The hike was saved, largely because of the help and assistance of others; and I was back hiking again in Vermont—a state that I had come to love.
Throughout the course of my unexpected “sick week,” I became fascinated watching a family of robins. The mother robin had built a nest in a corner of Ed’s carport, diligently transporting food each day to her three hatchlings. Actually, both the mother and father robins venture from the nest to find food for their young, then carry the food back using their beaks, dropping the food into the mouths of the baby birds. In a remarkably short span of time, I observed the hatchlings grow to nestlings, and one by one they flew out of the nest. The scene of robin fledglings flying for the first time fills the viewer with a deep sense of wonder. Seeing them flap their wings and flutter out of the nest is like watching a teenager drive a car for the first time. In those early moments, one crosses his fingers as safety becomes of much concern. Would the little birds have a mid-air collision or smash into a wall? The landings were, shall we say, a little “choppy,” but the birds made it out of the nest unscathed. It takes the babies about two weeks to leave the nest, or “fledge.” The father continues to feed them while the mother begins incubating a new brood of eggs. The American robin, with its recognizable reddish-orange breast, is a delightful bird to watch as it runs about in the lush green grass in search of the next meal; indeed, it’s one of the first songbirds to begin the dawn chorus. Bird life is plentiful in Vermont as it is on much of the Eastern Seaboard. A birdwatcher (aka “birder”) hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail could potentially add hundreds of entries to his life list.
Cranking out the miles, I sped over Stratton Mountain on down to Stratton Pond, a glorious site with crystal-clear water. Further up trail, the Bromley Mountain ski resort had a metallic UFO-like lift building that was apparently decommissioned. There was also a small cabin at the summit where a couple thru-hikers had lay claim for the night. Styles Peak, as many of the Vermont mountain peaks tend to be, was tree-covered but with periodic open views. The log-built Peru Peak shelter was a lean-to that had been sturdily constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and provided a perfect place for a shaded respite. The shelter also had a tent platform nearby along with a moldering privy. A more remote structure in Vermont off a spur trail, called the Mauri Wintturi shelter, was an ideal spot to camel up at the nearby creek after a long dry stretch.
The rest of Vermont was a wooded path filled mostly with enchanting conifer forests. There is a striking natural beauty of green wilderness in Vermont that is unique from other states. Numerous campsites are found dotted along the trail as are “stealthable” spots. The towns of Vermont are as quaint as they come with boxy Colonial-era clapboard houses, gingerbread buildings, and whitewashed steepled churches. West Hartford Village Meeting House (c. 1832) was a Vermont landmark that was worthy of pause and historical reflection as I passed alongside it. The Teago General Store, a quick mile dash off trail, made the most delectable reuben sandwich; the gal working the deli even sliced up fresh ham and cheese for me to pack out along with a small loaf of pumpkin bread. Penetrating through the town of Norwich, I finally came to the Connecticut River. Hitting the 500-miles-to-Katahdin marker had been a morale booster in itself but getting through Vermont lifted my spirits all the more. The end of the AT was slowly coming into view. Vermont was complete and only two states now separated me from Canada—New Hampshire and Maine. Hiking by this point had become a way of life for me, and you know, it’s not all that bad.
“He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.”
—Psalm 40:2 (ESV)