Norwich, VT to Rutland, VT: the best scenery from the inside of a shelter is rain

Tags: , , , — Jeff @ 20:50

In case it wasn’t quite clear by now from the non-trail posts I’ve made recently, I’ve long since finished hiking the A.T. now. My last day was October 25, leaving Neel’s Gap around 6:40 or so that morning and summitting Springer Mountain by 17:20. Since then I’ve briefly returned to Michigan to relax a little and then headed out to Mountain View, CA, where I’m now doing full-time work on TraceMonkey, the JavaScript engine that will be in future versions of Firefox. (TraceMonkey does some truly insane things in how it converts a slower representation of JavaScript into a faster one, akin to how modern virtual machine software can execute a guest operating system’s code sometimes faster than could be achieved if the guest OS were running directly on the hardware itself. It’s a wonder we can make it work, but I very much expect it’ll be a fundamental component in dynamic language compilation going forward.)

Anyway, I still have some interest in finishing out these posts as a way of remembering what I did and what happened on the trail (and I’ve invested enough time in the already-written entries that I’d hate to abandon the full series unfinished), so expect to see them dribbling out every so often for awhile, assuming I can keep up the motivation to commit months-old memories to words and posts.

One last note: I’ve updated all the previous A.T. posts I’ve made with all the pictures I took, so if you wanted pictures, feel free to look over them again.

July 23

(20.4; 468.1 total, 1705.9 to go; +5.4 from pace, -206.9 overall)

It’s a fairly late start out of the shelter today around 9:30 or so. This really isn’t such a great idea, actually, because I was sort of thinking of pushing it to make Hanover (well, really this shelter) to Rutland in two days, but whatever — if you’re going to hike the A.T., you have to have fun doing it, and I like sleep.

Before heading out I stop at the privy here. This picture from inside the privy shows exactly why the Dartmouth Outing Club have been my favorite maintainers so far:

A white toilet seat with a smiley face and a speech bubble saying "Feed me!", with the words "Welcome to Happy Hill" beneath it
High art on the Appalachian Trail

Today’s hiking starts out okay but turns dreary fairly quickly. By late morning it starts to rain, and I hurry on to Thistle Hill Shelter 8.8 miles into the day to eat lunch. The rain has me in no hurry to move on, and I stop for over an hour to eat lunch. (Realistically if I’m going to pull twenty miles today I should make a briefer stop, but I don’t really feel like pushing just to make more distance; if I want to take it easy, I’ll take it easy.) I pick up the register to skim it a little bit and see that I seem to have skipped by another acquaintance, Frog, from my spring break jaunt on the A.T. in North Carolina. (It’s actually harder to meet people heading the other direction than you might think, given how easy it is to stop off for a meal or resupply, and it’s perhaps even more difficult for me given that I tend to carry food for longer distances than many.)

The shelter’s reading material, beyond the shelter register, also includes a slightly-old Sunday New York Times first section. The front page has a story interviewing Senator McCain, and for the most part it’s fairly mundane. What particularly strikes me, however, is that the story includes a very subtle smear. The story’s headline concerns which Republican president McCain most admires; his choice is Teddy Roosevelt, all well and good. One naturally would expect the presented question, then, to be along the lines of, “Which Republican president do you most admire?” It is, but rather than leaving the question open-ended, three choices are presented: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. There are good reasons to present the first two choices, but the third makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, for one simple reason: no candidate in his right mind would ever name George W. Bush as a role model given his current approval ratings. (At the time of the article this was probably 30% or thereabouts.) To do so would be political suicide; it’s practically a gift-wrapped campaign ad for Obama. Why, then, would the reporter present Bush as a choice when any idiot could tell he isn’t going to be selected? Indeed, why even present choices at all? The only plausible answer is that the reporter phrased the question in this way to subtly associate (smear) McCain with Bush. There’s no proof of any of this, of course, but it’s obvious what the effect of presenting the choice might be, and it’s just as obvious that that effect would not have happened if the question had been open-ended.

By the time I leave it’s at least 14:00 or so, and I’ve got a lot more traveling to do in order to make it to Wintturi Shelter for the night. The intermittent rain during the day further complicates matters, and I don’t make especially good time throughout the afternoon. I pass over my first electric fences by late afternoon (designed to keep livestock in fields owned by nearby farmers; the A.T. passes through a large number of stretches of private land via easements arranged with the federal government), a not-quite-trivial task when wearing a full backpack. I also pass through a large number of fields filled with wild raspberries which considerably delay my southbound progress. By 20:00 or so I’m at the last major road (VT-12) before entering the last four miles to the shelter. This road also marks the end of territory maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club. Alas! the most awesome maintaining club on the trail yet far is behind me. Now it’s the Green Mountain Club maintaining the trail I walk.

Now you, dear reader, will likely be reading this sometime late December, and you’re surely thinking, “But what about darkness? Surely it’s getting dark by 20:00 at night?” And surely you’re right! It’s a bit dusky as I head further south through more farmland, and eventually I have to pull out the headlamp again. Eventually it’s fully dark, but thankfully the white blazes on the trees are fairly clear, and the Green Mountain Club in this section seems to have an unusual insistence upon marking even the slightest change in direction of the trail be double-blazed if the trail before and the trail after formed a “point” rather than an arc. Worse than the darkness, tho, is the drizzling rain, which eventually grows into a full downpour by 21:20 or so. This is hardly the sort of weather in which I want to stop early (and a sign at the road claimed that the trail from the road to the shelter passed through land where no camping was allowed), so I continue pressing on for the next hour until I finally reach the junction to the shelter. (In fact by the time I reach it I’ve been staring off the right of the trail for the last hour waiting to see a sign; it would be, er, bad to miss it in this weather.)

It’s a small jaunt down to the shelter from the trail, maybe 0.2 miles or so. I reach it hoping against hope that there’ll be space in the shelter for me, and there actually is space — but the people in the shelter are all asleep and taking up too much room for me to actually fit inside. Having no other option at this time, I set up my tent, move foodstuffs out of my backpack and hang them from one of the mouse hangers in the shelter (just underneath its roof but not inside it, so I don’t wake anyone up doing it), crawl into the tent and attempt to dry a little before crawling in the sleeping bag and going to sleep.

July 24

(0.0; 468.1 total, 1705.9 to go; -15.0 from pace, -221.9 overall)

Spontaneous zero!

I wake up today a bit after seven to more of the rain from last night. It’s more sprinkly than rainy, but I still pack up my tent and backpack quickly to move into the shelter for breakfast. I recognize a few people I’d seen earlier on the trail, including Hungarian, and naturally they remark upon my late arrival in the middle of a rainstorm the previous night. I have no worries; I hike when I have to hike, and that’s that. Breakfast is a very leisurely process; understandably, I have little interest in walking out into rain again. Gradually everyone else leaves, and I’m still working on breakfast when I spontaneously decide that I’m not going to hike today. The rain doesn’t appear to be stopping (and who knows, it might go away if I wait a day), I got in late the previous night, it’d be my first full day not hiking since Gorham, and if I’m going to show up to the hiker festival in Bennington on August 1, I have more than enough time to get there, at a below-average pace, even if I stop for the day.

I spend most of the day lazing around in the shelter, reading the Federalist Papers, eating gorp and a tortilla/peanut butter lunch, and talking to other hikers who stop in. The first arrival is Beershake, who walks in before noon and decides, as I have, that he’s not going any further — but unlike me, he’s stopping because it’s his birthday! The rain becomes torrential later in the day, and I am thoroughly glad I decided to go nowhere. Li’l Cubit and Kat arrive later on in the day; Li’l Cubit vociferously (and amusingly) attempts to persuade Beershake to move on another four miles to a farm that sells ice cream that I passed by late yesterday, but he’s decided what he’ll do and isn’t budging, and she’s unsuccessful; in contrast, Kat almost immediately capitulates and starts settling down for the day. 🙂 Later on Grasshopper arrives to round out the group for the night (as far as I remember now; there’s a chance I missed one person, but I don’t think I did). I’m the only southbounder in the group, and the rest are all, as far as I know, northbounders. It’s a pretty lackadaisical day, a bunch of reading, a bunch of resting, and a bunch of sleeping to round it out.

July 25

(19.9; 488.0 total, 1686.0 to go; +4.9 from pace, -217.0 overall)

I wake up fairly early since I have a long day of hiking and don’t really want to be hiking as late as I did two days ago; nevertheless, when I awake Kat and Li’l Cubit are on their way north again. I finish up a breakfast and get on the trail pretty early, I believe before 7 and certainly before 8.

The rain of the last two days is entirely gone. It’s sunny outside, and I walk across hills and by nice views without a worry for the weather. Sometimes trying to wait out bad weather doesn’t work, but today, it’s worked spectacularly.

Sunny day, great weather, a nice view into the distance
Sunny day, great weather, a nice view into the distance
A ladder to get up and over a particularly steep section of trail
A ladder to get up and over a particularly steep section of trail

The first real stop for the day is at a shelter about halfway between Wintturi Shelter and the road into Rutland, where I plan to spend the night and resupply on food. While the weather may be great, the ground near this shelter’s completely soaked, and I step gingerly around puddles of mud to reach the shelter to sit down for a lunch of tortillas, peanut butter, and honey. (This is fast becoming a staple of my lunch stops due to its simplicity.) The shelter’s reading material includes what looks like an ATC newsletter which I briefly skim; it mentions an underpass along the trail that’s currently under construction, to avoid a busy road crossing. A few other people walk in, although the only one whose trail name I remember is Daddy-O; turns out they’re northbounders who are walking south for the day without backpacks, back to my final destination for the day — a hostel in Rutland run by members of a religious organization called the Twelve Tribes. (I’m still not entirely sure how you’d describe them — maybe cult without the negative connotations.) This practice of walking the trail without a backpack and then being shuttled back to where you left your backpack is known as slackpacking; opinions on its legitimacy as a form of hiking vary rather widely. I didn’t know of its existence prior to starting the trail, and I have no intention of doing any while doing my thru-hike because it wasn’t what I set out to do. That said, even had I known, I don’t think I would have done any. Backpacking isn’t backpacking without the backpack.

A small, harmless snake off the side of the trail
A small, harmless snake off the side of the trail

I continue hiking south, but I don’t make especially fast progress. I finish the next five or so miles by around 16:00 and take a brief stop by a small river in response to an offer from a guy in a truck of a Mountain Dew. One of the northbounders shows up just before me, and the three of us talk for a bit. Turns out the guy who gave me the Mountain Dew had some sort of crisis-of-action things several years back where he realized he didn’t like what he was doing, so he went off and hiked the Appalachian Trail, altering his life and way of thinking. Now he’s out along the trail doing water quality tests (pH and other such things, not for drinkability), and he happened to stop by this river today to do that here. While we’re talking I also discover that the last bus into Rutland leaves around 18:15, and I’ve still got five miles to go — not good. I pick up the pace significantly, hiking very nearly with the northbounder, even tho he doesn’t have a pack but I do; I’m pleasantly surprised I can do this, but I’m really pushing the pace. Eventually I can no longer keep up, but thanks to the motivation of following someone I make much better time than I have previously, and it gets me close enough to the end that I can finish it out and make the bus into Rutland on time. To be honest, I’m not sure I could have done that without someone to follow; it’s a good thing the other guy was hiking through when I was.

The road into Rutland is definitely the most perilous road to cross on the trail so far; it’s four or so lanes of traffic moving in either direction at probably 50-60 miles an hour. Signs before and after it specifically warn hikers to look both ways and then to move quickly without stopping across the road. The bus is a nice convenience over hitchhiking in; it’s $2 one-way, but I’ll take that over an uncertain wait to get into town any day. Once in town I follow the northbounder, who also is on the bus, to the Back Home Again Cafe. It’s a combination cafe and hiker hostel; apparently over the past week it’s been pretty crowded due to the incessant rain. (There were almost thirty hikers staying there a few days ago; it’s down to maybe ten or fifteen now.) I’ve been attempting to catch up to the Honeymooners for awhile now, and I find out they were in only a few days ago, waiting out the rain. There’s plenty of trail to do it, and it’ll happen eventually.

The hostel itself is an interesting place. The main guy in charge is Ranan, and he shows me where the bunk room is and gives a brief tour of the hostel itself. Paying to spend the night there is a bit unusual; generally it’s a work-for-stay system, but because it’s past sunset and tomorrow’s Saturday, they’re observing the Sabbath and won’t allow hikers to do work-for-stay on that day. There are scattered copies of their newsletters and such, and it’s clear this is also sort of an outreach for them. The cafe itself is this weird indoor outdoorscape — check out the picture gallery on their site if you care to find out more. The decor is entirely unlike any other restaurant I’ve ever visited; if you’re ever in the area you should visit and take a look around (but not if it’s a Saturday as they’re closed then).

It happens to be the night of a street festival in Rutland just outside the hostel, which makes things a bit more crowded than usual. I stop at an Italian restaurant and have French onion soup, pasta, and a Guinness for dinner; there’s a Yankees-Sox game on TV which I watch, but it’s not nearly as good as the last one I watched, first because Boston lost, and second because I started watching after the sole run of the game was scored, so there wasn’t a whole lot of action. It’s getting somewhat late to resupply (although I could if I wanted at the Wal-Mart just down the street), so I head back to the hostel and go to sleep.

I’m now out of the worst of the rain on the trail for awhile, which will make hiking more pleasant. I’m in the middle of the pack of northbounders, too, so there’s lots of traffic on the trail. Furthermore, I’ve just gotten on a portion of the A.T. which also follows the Long Trail, the original long-distance trail which was itself an inspiration for the A.T. The Long Trail starts at the Massachusetts-Vermont border and heads north to the Canadian border, covering around 270 miles total; its shorter length means it’s much easier to thru-hike it. Vermont has its hills and mountains, so it’s not the easiest hiking around, but 270 miles is short enough that a motivated hiker could complete the trail in three weeks (and someone fresh off an A.T. thru-hike or some similar endeavor could do it in under two weeks). Perhaps I’ll go back and hike it sometime if I need to do a short hike and can’t spare the time for a thru-hike somewhere.

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