I wanted to hike the Long Trail for a lot of reasons: to see Vermont in fall, to be in the woods, to push myself and to reflect on what I wanted to do next in my life. And, subconsciously or not, I wanted to prove to the guy who had just broken my heart (who coincidentally lived in Vermont) that I could do it.
I did my research, I purchased the trail map and companion book, and I spent hours dehydrating everything from soups and hummus to apples and bananas. It was early September and a mere four months ago I had graduated college, spent the summer leading wilderness trips in Maine, and now was faced with the harsh reality that I would have to be an adult and enter the ‘real’ world. But first I was going to hike this 272 mile trail through Vermont because I wanted to, and I was certain I could, and that it would give me a sense of satisfaction if I could do it before he could.
… I would have to be an adult and enter the ‘real’ world. But first I was going to hike this 272 mile trail through Vermont because I wanted to, and I was certain I could…
As my departure date loomed closer, I was scared. I had never spent three weeks alone in the woods before, and after being so recently wrenched away from all of my friends (who were more like family), I knew that three weeks of isolation was not what I needed right now. A few days before I left, my best friend from school, Barbara, agreed to join me and I was ecstatic to have the company.
The morning Barbara and I were dropped at the Pine Cobble trailhead in Williamstown, MA it was bleak and drizzling. We set off at a brisk pace, cracking jokes (“it can only get better from here”), and marveling at how mystical the rain made the mixed hardwood forest around us look. By noon the sun made an effort to shine and we paused at an overlook to soak in the views of the valleys below. To the west we could see our beloved Adirondack Mountains, reminding us of our home for the past four years and of the memories we had created there in such a brief time. The Green Mountains were just starting to show a hint of their fall colors and as we looked north and east we grew excited about the trail that lay ahead.
We hiked 53 miles in three days, each carrying approximately 35-40 pound packs. On the third day Barbara’s blisters were so bad we knew we had to stop. Being the Earth child that she is, and because she goes barefoot more often than she wears shoes, her hiking boots destroyed her feet. It was then that she admitted, “You know, I don’t even really like hiking, I just came to spend time with you.” The decision to stop hiking made itself; there was no way Barbara could continue – she had hiked the third day entirely in my t0o-big-for-her Crocs – and I wasn’t going to finish without her. In truth, I didn’t know if I could finish alone and was again gripped with uncertainty and fear and the guilt that maybe I wasn’t doing this trip for me, but to prove something to him.
Over those three days on Vermont’s Long Trail, I fell in love. Not with a person or thing, but with a place and a dream. Quitting that hike was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. It brought to light all of the reasons I was actually doing the trip: for a boy, for pride, for recognition, and none of these were the right reasons. I knew at this point that I was capable of hiking, covering lots of ground with a full pack, and planning a backcountry trip on my own. I could have continued on without Barbara, but something held me back. The three short days we had spent together sleeping in a tent and hanging our clothes to try on tree branches, making “gypsy camps” had still been special. Our friendship was stronger because of the hardship and discomfort and I didn’t, couldn’t, blame her for being the reason I stopped hiking. I needed to hike the Long Trail when I was doing it for me.
The beauty of the Long Trail is in more than just the landscape and living in a tent on a picturesque trail. It is the fact that the trail will be there, waiting for me to come back and finish, when the time is right.