For many years I’ve dreamed of hiking the Long Trail from one end to the other. This past summer, I finally made it happen. On August 30, I set out on the Pine Cobble Trail in Williamstown, MA. Four weeks later, I stepped into the clearing along the Canadian border at Line Post 592. In between, I had a great adventure that I will never forget.
All the way across the ridge, I was alone. Even as I enjoyed the view from the chin, there was not another soul in sight. I had all of Mt Mansfield to myself.
As with any experience, my hike was filled with good times and bad. What surprised me was how quickly one could turn into the other. For example, there was the day I hiked over Mt Mansfield. This day was strangely broken into three parts. The first part was without a doubt the best part of my trip. The last part was among the worst.
I started up from Butler Lodge early on a gorgeous sunny day with a light breeze. I reached the Forehead with not a soul in sight. After enjoying the view and catching my breath, I began my walk across the ridge. At the summit station, there still were no other people. I began to wonder how far I could go on this beautiful fall day before I encountered another person. All the way across the ridge, I was alone. Even as I enjoyed the view from the chin, there was not another soul in sight. I had all of Mt Mansfield to myself.
I moved on down to Taft Lodge: still no one. For 45 minutes, I just sat soaking up the sun. These are the words I wrote in my journal, “I’m sitting on the porch at Taft and there is still no one around. But for the sounds from the valley below, I could almost believe that I’m the only human left alive. Sometimes this would produce a very lonely feeling. Today it feels like a gift. Solitude / loneliness two sides of the same coin. Today it came up heads.”
The second part of this day took place in Smugglers’ Notch where I was greeted by about 15 people from work who came with pizza, soda, and cookies and threw me a party. It was great fun. Everyone wanted to hear about my trip. Thankfully, no one talked about work. As we were wrapping up, the Sterling Pond caretaker happened by with a friend. When they were offered our left-over pizza, they were thrilled to accept. When they figured out I was thru-hiking, we connected and started talking trail-talk. My co-workers found this fascinating, especially when I told them my trail name and our visitors said they’d heard about me. The thought of “gossip” spreading up and down the trail seemed quite funny to them.
Then came part three of this long day. Just before I left the party, someone warned me that bad weather was ahead. I made the grueling climb up Elephant’s Head, past Sterling Pond and Madonna. As I approached Whiteface Shelter the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. It was clear I’d be spending the night here alone. I began to worry that I might be in real trouble if it began to rain in the night since Whiteface is so exposed. I also worried about hiking over Whiteface Mountain in the rain the next day. I worked myself up into such frenzy that I got almost no sleep.
Sure enough, the next day was rainy and miserable and turned out to be one of the worst days of my hike. But I stuck it out and four days later I was dancing around Line Post 592. What I found was that long distance hiking is not so much a physical challenge as a mental and emotional challenge. Hiking the Long Trail is truly an experience of ups and downs.