These are my last days on the trail. It was all very bittersweet.
I was expecting rain and scattered t-storms. As I should have learned the first one hundred times, I shouldn’t trust the weather. I woke to birds chirping and the sun peeking through clouds. I had a difficult time sleeping because in the middle of the night, a mouse had climbed into the SOBO hikers pack. He had gotten it out but it was a long ordeal.
Because I had hiked 30 miles, I had one day where I could hike 10 miles. I tried to take the day slow but my speed was better and I had a hard time stopping. The hike was pretty uneventful. There were some nice vistas with scattered farm lands and a tiny airport. Also, some very questionable feces at one.
I passed a swimming hole I whiffed on. I regret it, I should have gone swimming. SMH. The hikers from the night before me had passed me, a fact I knew was coming and tried accepting it. The next day I would be hiking Mt. Killington. I was really nervous for that hike and assumed it would be pretty awful. Its presence loomed over my attitude and the valley I hiked in.
Mt. Killington in the distance.
I got to my last site early, which was right at the base of Killington. I met my first hiker trash duo. They were two male thru hikers that were smoking pot and being pretty obnoxious. It was bound to happen that I would meet someone wouldn’t exactly fit the bill of being as kind and respectful as those I had met before. They left though to hike on.
I almost forgot the most important and strangest part of my hike at this point! I was very close to Rutland. Apparently, in Rutland there was a hostel run by a cult, that was called some name that went like the 12 Suns or something like that. They were a pretty peaceful cult that believed in the impending doom of the world and had a mission statement where they attempted to indoctrinate hikers into the cult by giving them free matte, discounted sandwiches, and donation only place to stay. I am serious, this is real. When I first heard rumblings of this, I thought that a bunch of hikers had quit and started an anti hiking cult in the middle of the woods. No, I slowly came to learn that this was a place to stay and eat and was very popular. At this point in the hike, everyone was either going or talking about going. Some were even trying to convince me to go there as well, which I also whiffed on. My trip was for self discovery not drinking matte with doomsayers. The two guys in the shelter kept joking about how they were going to run up the mountain just to go back there.
Slowly, the shelter began to fill up with familiar faces. At first, the section hiker from the hostel popped by and we shared plans for the next day. The couple from two nights ago were one of the first to stay and we talked the longest. The solo Long Trail hiker from a couple of nights ago came in with her friend. After meeting many times, she was nicer to me and generally interested in my trip. It only took three meet ups… Even a guy and women I had met a week ago came in and remembered me! There were new faces too, like a SOBO couple who knew the guy I met the night before and said he was apart of their large trail family. I also met a couple where one women was from England and the man was from South Africa. Again, we all sat in a big circle and conversations drifted around and around.
I was silent towards the end. I was talked out but more importantly, I felt full.
That night I slept in the shelter without my tent, a first. I was ready for Mt. Killington, to be done and to drink blue Gatorade (my drink of dreams at this point). While I was ready to finish, I was also not really ready to let go of the trail, the community I had been let into, and what it all meant to me.
Day 11 (the last day)
I woke up pretty early again. I was nervous that Mt. Killington would take me more the 5 hours to hike and had a 14 mile day ahead of me. The peak is 4.3 miles uphill. Again, my feet were sore, blistered, and bloated. I took my time in the beginning as usual, just going through the motions. For the first and only time, I used the app Cairn to track my status to the peak. I had left the site around 6:45 am. I surprisingly got to the peak at 9:45.
I could not believe how easy it was. This whole time I was freaking out, thinking I wouldn’t be at the top until noon. I was proud and shocked at the same time. I was also super bitter. By the time I reached the top, I was in a cloud. No views. I had climbed my hardest peak, in record time by my standards, and got no visual reward.
The solo Long Trail hiker was behind me and she and I agreed, that was way easier then what it should have been. While I was at the top, I called the state park where my car was parked and told them I would be there this afternoon. I asked if there was site availability and they said there was. The women cheered in my phone that I was close to finishing.
I began to descend. As a treat to myself for being near the finish line, I started listening to music. I leap frogged with the hiker trash guys that asked where I was finishing for the day. I mentioned the state parks and they just yelled showers over and over again. Yeah, ok, whatever.
My last vista, I ate my snack with the section hiker from the hostel I had been leap frogging with for a couple of days. He snapped my picture as requested and complained about food and hiking. I let him hike ahead of me. I wanted to finish this alone with the tunes of Drake, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Solange (my only downloaded music). I danced and sang my way down the trail. There was no one behind me.
Me and my last vista
There were moments as I was hiking my last 10, I cried little tears. I have probably cried more in those 11 days then I ever have. They were both tears of joy and sadness. I was happy to be done, to have this mental and physical weight lifted off of me. I was upset that it had ended just as I was getting comfortable and was grateful for what I had learned and the people I had met.
My last 3 miles went by really slowly. I took many breaks and hung out on rocks looking up at the trees. A couple passed me and I heard them whisper, “That’s a thru hiker!”. I rolled my eyes and was too tired to correct them. Finally, I got to the park and then my car, which I dramatically hugged. I got to the office, woofed down a Snickers ice cream bar, got a site for the night and a roll of quarters. I took off for the shower, then drove off to collect my prizes: an ice blue Gatorade, cheese puffs, a warm steak sandwich with cheese, and a PB brownie. As I ate, I saw two hikers from the night before and gave them the rest of my hiking food.
That night, I found out about Charlottesville, shocked but not surprised. I thought about how easy it was to be off the grid and the privilege there is with being able to take a hike, a month off from work and to be away from the news for so long. I had come out of the woods and our country was in a racist crisis. While the racism has always been there, heightened by a president that condones it, the death of Heather Heyer felt like a ten pound weight falling on my heart. Images of white supremacist and Nazis walking around the streets proudly made me queasy and blind with anger. With no one to talk to about it, I climbed into my tent and turned to the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book, Americanah.
I had hiked 53 miles in four days and had finished the trip four days ahead of schedule. While I had changed a little on the trail, the country had not. I sighed a long sigh of exhaustion and fell asleep before 8:00 PM.