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1998-2007

Hiking the Long Trail (9/99)

By MARY LOU RECOR

The following is an excerpt from Mary Lou Recor's report of her end-to-end hike of the Long Trail in 1998. Congratulations to Mary Lou. Potential end-to-enders and armchair hikers alike, we appreciate sharing her experiences.

On August 8, 1998, I began my through hike of the Long Trail at the Massachusetts border. I finished on August 29 in a steady drizzle at the U.S./Canada border...

Fear

I think the question Im asked most about hiking the Long Trail is “Weren't you afraid?” My answer is “Yes, I was, sometimes.” The first few days of the hike, I was afraid I couldn't physically finish. My pack felt heavier than I'd anticipated and the terrain was rugged. I would stop every hour to catch my breath and take my pack off, something I'm not used to doing. I developed hot spots on my feet where my boots rubbed, another new experience. I felt unsure of myself and whether I had what it takes to hike an average of 12 to 13 miles per day for 22 days by myself.

Before my trip, several well-meaning friends had warned me of the dangers of hiking through Vermont alone. My mother was probably the worst; she didn't say much, just looked at me with that certain pained expression whenever I mentioned the trail. Sort of the way she would look if I said I was going to have my tongue pierced or my eyelids tattooed. I would always shrug off these remarks with something like “The mall parking lot is more dangerous than the Long Trail.” But out there on the trail, feeling tired and discouraged, I wasn't so sure.

I was uneasy the night I spent all by myself at Corliss Camp, my first and only night alone on the trail. I spent most of the evening writing in my journal, talking to myself, and playing solitaire. At dusk, I heard the eerie wailing of a pack of canines, surely lurking just beyond the closest of the trees. I didn't want to turn on a light out of fear that it would attract whatever was out there waiting to tear me and my packets of Lipton's Noodles and Sauce to shreds. I locked the door from the inside. I would have felt secure except one pane of glass was missing from the window. I used a green plastic garbage bag and pieces of wood to jury-rig a covering for the hole. The finished product wouldn't have kept out the wind, and with that, I crawled into my sleeping bag, pepper spray and whistle in hand. Periodically, a mouse or other nocturnal critter scampering over the boards awakened me. I pulled the draw cord tight around my face even though it was a warm night. I survived.

Ironically, the pepper spray I clutched so tightly expired in 1995. I knew this before I started my hike, yet took it anyway, figuring the extra weight was worth the psychological comfort. I had no idea whether the canister would work or not, and I still don't. Go figure.

Pain

Along with hot spots on my feet, I suffered from soreness and chafing on my shoulders where my pack straps rubbed, and I had red marks on my hipbones from the pack belt. I don't know exactly what happened, but all that discomfort disappeared by about the fourth day. I think my body realized I wasn't going to stop and it gave up trying to suffer me into quitting.

Later in the hike, my knees and ankles bothered me a bit, particularly during my descent of Camels Hump. I still can't believe how long I took to do it, over seven hours. And, the ultimate insult, the summit was socked in, completely white, and I couldn't see more than ten feet. All that work and no reward. The twinges in my knees and ankles continued for the remainder of the hike, but as with the critters in the night, I learned to ignore them.

Rain

The first two weeks, I only hiked in the rain about an hour climbing Stratton Mtn. It sometimes rained overnight and I hiked under overcast skies, but at least I was dry.

Psychologically, standing on the Forehead of Mt. Mansfield may have been the highpoint of my hike. I wanted to call someone to share the joy I felt at that moment. For me, the toughest part of the hike was over. After a detour for water, I reached the Chin about noon. Sitting there, I watched clouds moving in from the west. By the time I reached Taft Lodge, big drops were hitting my pack and I hiked to Smugglers Notch in a steady downpour. I reached Watson Camp and then the real storm blew in. The wind gusted, it poured and hailed, and the water blew horizontally over the pond. I was inside, cozy and dry, once Al, the caretaker, closed the shutters. The following day, I met a woman on Whiteface who asked me about the weather on the trail. I smugly told her of my luck and lack of wet feet. She said she had done the entire trail two years ago, and it had rained about every afternoon at 4. That afternoon, it started raining about 4, and the next afternoon, and the next. Although she seemed a nice person, I wish she'd planned her vacation for September, long after I was back home.

People

Although I hiked most of the trail on my own, there were people along the way who made the trip possible, either by their company or by the special things they did for me.

I had planned to spend August 14 at Pico Camp, but when I arrived an odd character sunning himself in front of the lodge greeted me. He said he worked on an offshore oil drilling rig and was hiking parts of the AT on his time off. Though his story was plausible, he just didn't look the part. He was carrying about 50 pounds more on his body than was healthy, wearing a Miami Dolphins football jersey, and in general looking creepy. Not that I have anything against the Dolphins, but I am a Packers fan.

I decided to move on to Route 4 and take my chances that I could stay with Mary Jaeger, the mother of a friend. She was a gracious hostess. She let me shower, wash my trail clothes, and most importantly, listened raptly to my stories from the trail.

My last night on the trail at Laura Woodward shelter, I met Glow Bug and Sloth, a couple whose logbook entries I had been reading since Gorham Lodge. We had fun exchanging stories and they told me how they had become engaged on the hike. I was very glad for their company, especially since this was my last night and I didnt want to spend it clutching an expired cannister of pepper spray.

At Last

It rained my last day on the trail, which I thought made for a fitting end. At that point, I was tired and dirty and had been anticipating Journey's End since the summit of Belvidere. Now, I was also sopping wet. The pictures at the border show me smiling; I was happy to be finished. I remember thinking, “Now I've done this, I won't have to do it again.” Now, many months after my through hike, I'm not so sure. I have lots of other trips I want to do first, but someday I will hike the Long Trail again, perhaps in sections, or in winter, from north to south, with a friend. I think you get the idea.