The Long Trail

10 years ago this week, Debbie and I finished our Long Trail (LT) End-to-End hike. It was a wonderful experience that has left lasting memories. Our life for the outdoors, hiking, and trails is epitomized by those 13 days. I wrote about the LT five years ago when our anniversary coincided with the 100th anniversary of the trail. Debbie and I still help the Green Mountain Club in our role as LT End-to-End Mentors.

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For the past 10 years, we have helped 30-40 candidates a year. The story I wrote for the 2006 Summer/Fall issue of Appalachia, is still relevant. However, we have learned so much more about lightweight backpacking and fast-packing. We would definitely change our packing list and approach to the hike if we had to do it again today. Many of those lessons are shared in the standard email that I share with people who wish to hike the trail.

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The Long Trail and Appalachian Trail (AT) have been on my mind lately. Many people have been inspired by Scott Jurek’s quest to break the Appalachian Trail speed record (supported). He is less than 190 miles from Katahdin as I type and it is still up in the air if he is going to break Jennifer Pharr Davis’ fantastic record. I wrote about his attempt and our connections to Jurek last week when he passed through Massachusetts, and Debbie and our kids met up with him to offer their support. Yesterday, Outside Magazine published an update on his progress and how hard the attempt has been.

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Jurek has a crew with him. When we did our hike, we were self-supported. We mailed two food drops to destinations near the trail and we retrieved them during the trip. I would love to try the LT again some day, but totally self-supported with no drops. That would be cool. Hiking the AT is another “to do” list item. I frequently think about that opportunity. That would be a fun family adventure.

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To celebrate the anniversary of our LT hike, we returned to Vermont last weekend with our kids for a shorter trip. They have heard so much about our 2005 adventure and we wanted to share more of the experience with them. We frequently hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but hadn’t been on the LT with them in recent years. Though they had done multi-day hiking, they hadn’t done it backpacking style where you have to carry your own gear and food. We recently got our 8-year old son a backpack. He tested it out at a recent camporee with his Cub Scouts pack. Our 5-year old daughter split time with about 60% of the time on her own feet, and 40% in our Deuter kids backpack, which Debbie carried. When loaded with a kid, food, and other gear, it weighed nearly 50 pounds. We are fortunate that our little girl is small for her age.

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We chose to hike in southern Vermont and did the 21 +/- mile Glastenbury Mountain/West Ridge loop. We parked at the Green Mountain National Forest trailhead on Rt. 9 just east of Bennington. Last Friday evening, we hiked the 1.6 miles to the Melville Nauheim shelter. We took the chance and didn’t carry a tent. We figured that even though it was July 4th weekend, that we would find space in the shelters. We carried a tarp just in case.

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The kids got to meet some LT hikers who were just starting their journey. They also met some AT thru-hikers who were well on their way northbound to Katahdin. On Saturday morning, we departed the shelter at 7:15 A.M. We showed the kids how to treat water on the trail. We hiked 8.5 miles north on the LT to the Goddard shelter. We arrived at 3:45 P.M., so it was a long day. Not only was it long, but it was wet, really wet. It started raining at 9:00 A.M., and didn’t stop until after 5:00 P.M. when we were at the shelter. Southern Vermont had already seen a record amount of rainfall in June, so the trail was waterlogged. It poured all day and turned the trail into a muddy quagmire.

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It was a character building kind of day on the trail. We all had our low moments, but taught the kids how to cope with those feelings. When our son emerged from the trees in to a clearing and spotted the shelter, he was elated. We stayed at Goddard on our second night in June 2005. It was rebuilt in September 2005, but it was in the same spot. After dinner, the skies cleared and we walked to the summit and enjoyed a 360 degree panoramic view from the top of the Glastonbury Mountain fire tower. It was spectacular and we explained to the kids that those types of experiences are what make the long walks worth it.

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Unlike our first night when we had a fitful sleep because of a shelter-mate with a snoring problem, the night at Goddard was awesome. Everyone slept well. The fact that we were knackered probably helped our slumber. On Sunday morning, we departed at 7:15 A.M. again after a quick snack. We took the West Ridge Trail south and looped back around to a dirt road just off of Rt. 9. We got to the end of the trail at 3:30 P.M., and covered another 9.5 miles. We had a beautiful day not the trail. West Ridge sees less traffic and cuts through the Glastenbury Wilderness, so the trail wasn’t as muddy, though it was overgrown. We saw lots of moose droppings, but no moose.

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We had some great moments on the trail. The sunshine on Sunday was glorious. Our son was pretty tired by mid-day, and we helped him by carrying his pack part of the time. We had some nice views from the summit of Bald Mountain and the kids got a taste of what it is like to experience multiple false summits on a long uphill climb. We were all happy to reach the road at the end of the day. Debbie ran ahead to fetch the car so we didn’t have to walk on Rt. 9 with the busy traffic. She picked us up, we returned to the trailhead, and washed off in City Stream. We took the backroads into the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and stopped in Shelburne Falls for dinner. We met up with Debbie’s brother, Tom, and enjoyed a meal at Hearty Eats, a wonderful vegan/plant-based cafe. We spent a little time on the Bridge of Flowers, and then headed home to clean up and put the wraps on another weekend of family fun.

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That story I wrote 10 years ago had the sub-title: Miserably wet feet, too little food, and no ride home at the end—a couple’s most cherished adventure to date

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I don’t think Debbie would argue. Despite climbing all of the New England 4,000 footers, hiking, running, and biking all over the world, the Long Trail trip still is our most cherished adventure to date.

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