Day mileage: 20
AT total mileage: 1,720.7
Time: 8 hours
First off, I'm sorry this is a day late. I didn't have the time at the end of a very tiring Tuesday (or Wednesday) to write about the details of the day. I figured I at least owed it to myself and you to wait to write it when I could focus more. So. That's all well and good.
My horribly unfortunate new habit of waking up at 4 AM played a part in my exhaustion today. Having fallen asleep shortly after 1, I was left with a mere three hours of sleep before my eyes opened and there was no turning back. Luckily, Mother Nature made it worth my while. At 4:30 this morning the sky began an amazing transformation, from dreary and grey to a brilliant fire-like red and orange, rays of light being captured by clouds as dawn broke over the Vermont sky. The colors lasted less than 10 minutes but were gorgeous enough to drag my tired butt out of bed, locate my new camera and the tripod I carry, and find myself a spot on a log by the water to photograph the short lived moment. As the colors faded and the bland look of morning returned, I ate breakfast and began packing up, intentionally waking Rocket in the process so that we could attempt to beat the suppressive heat forecasted for the day. We were on the trail by 6:30, and the humidity was already quite present.
Leaving the lakeside where we had camped, the trail descended a few hundred feet before beginning a h[i]llacious climb out of the Killington valley. Some 1,300' in elevation gain, the two of us went at a pace set by Rocket, and we happily took a few breaks to let our heart rates return to normal before pressing on. Summiting the peak and then beginning the descent to the next shelter some 8 miles into the day, the group would reconvene for what ultimately became a long and relaxing break. After a night of limited sleep, I actually managed to fall asleep on the hard wooden floor of the shelter for the majority of the time we were there. Eventually leaving the shelter, the trail made a few more abrupt climbs and descents, which I hiked at a steady and quick pace with Santa. It was around 1400hrs that we arrived at The Lookout, a one story stone building that once was a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. Now privately owned, it's an in-the-works renovation being completed by private owners. The open floor plan, loft, and cathedral ceilings accompany a large front porch and a constructed widow's walk atop the building which boasts panoramic views of the Green Mountains, valleys of Vermont, and most notably the distant shadows of New Hampshire's White Mountains. After a half hour or so of time atop the roof, Legs and Rocket arrived and we all ate lunch. I took another quick nap in the shade on the porch before we packed up and moved on. At some point during the day Rocket had caught us all off guard by suggesting a 28 mile day, which with the stifling heat and slow hiking became increasingly challenging to try and complete. We hiked on, with Dorothy distancing himself in front to try and complete the remaining miles in less time.
At around 1800hrs the remaining four of us emerged from the woods at Vermont's route 12 to find a few sprawling farmlands decorated with large and well utilized barns. Sitting in the grass of one of the barn's side properties, a hiker named Milkshake emerged from behind a gigantic swinging red door of the barn, informing us that the place belonged to a 'hiker friendly guy' and we could likely spend the night there. At this point in the day patience was wearing thin with Rocket Girl, likely due to the horribly unforgiving terrain we had spent all day hiking through, and the discouraging thought of 7 more miles of climbing before reaching our intended destination. There's a saying with hikers that 'the trail provides', meaning that when you truly need something, oftentimes you'll be greeted with trail magic or gifts from other hikers that help you in your time of need. By the time we were sitting next to that barn on Tuesday night, we needed a place to stay... The trail provided. Owned by an incredibly outgoing and kindhearted man named Daniel, the barn has been home to nearly 7,000 hikers over the course of the 21 years he's owned the property. He is not advertised in any of the guide books, but simply lets the 'good hikers' find themselves there via word of mouth. After seeking permission from the tenant of the house on the property, we set our gear up in the barn and headed across the street to a small vehicle bridge crossing over a stream. It was here that we decided to cook dinner, away from the hundred something year old barn. Daniel came over and introduced himself, excitedly asking us about ourselves and telling us about the property. The barn itself is an old post and beam structure with dimensions in the 40x80 range. A whopping four floors tall, I spent some time wandering through it and was practically in heaven. With an appreciation for vintage barns, architecture, collections of miscellaneous items, and signs, this was my kind of place. Built with massive 10 and 12 inch beams held together with pounded pins at joints, the expansive floor space was created with more large planks of wood spanning from one side to the other. The main floor was home to lots of woodworking equipment, shelves of construction books, and other random nick nacks, while lower floors stored equipment and machinery, and the vaulted ceilings of the uppermost level housed ladders and a large pulley lift to haul equipment up from lower points in the building via trap doors. Speaking with Daniel as we cooked dinner on the bridge, he gave us a brief history of the area that had been washed out two years ago when Hurricane Irene blew through and destroyed Vermont. Ironically, the property he owns used to be a Gulf station decades ago. I later asked about any signage and he said he has the original sign somewhere in the barn... something might work out between us there.
Daniel invited us to help ourselves to anything we needed, and upon parting gave us the invitation to go swimming at the local lake in Woodstock, VT. After a long day of sweaty hiking we of course took him up on the offer, cleaning up our dinner supplies and piling into his Ford truck for the 7 mile drive to the General Store in the center of town. By the time we arrived it was nearly 2030hrs, but the diminishing sunlight was enough to illuminate the lake as we dove in and swam. The feeling of the cool water on an exceptionally humid day was incredible, and I was extremely content to just float in the water as Dan filled us in on his life. In his early 50s, he's an architectural restoration contractor, having worked on many notable federal buildings and churches alike around the country. We dried off after a while and piled back into the truck for the drive back to his farm, Naila lying in the bed with the 5 of us buckled into the cab. The Red Sox game was crackling over the radio, and the warm summer air was blowing in through the windows of the truck. It was a picturesque ending to a day that had practically emotionally broken some of the group after grueling terrain and weather. As the day wound down and dusk settled into the darkness of night, Santa, Legs, Rocket, and myself stood on the road at the edge of a farm field watching immeasurable numbers of fireflies illuminate the rolling hills in front of us as heat lightning lit up the sky. These are moments you can't make up, and moments that you may have never dreamed you'd be experiencing- things that the Appalachian Trail presented me with tonight.
The night will be spent sleeping on the floor of the barn in a big pile, four hikers and the dog. I was frustrated during the day with the lack of agreement towards our mileage plan, and mid-day had very much wanted to stop at the Lookout cabin for the night. Had there been a local water source, I might have let the group hiked on and caught them at a later date. Regardless, the day continued and we made a new friend with an incredible trail angel who turned our spirits around. Tomorrow will push us on towards New Hampshire with a 20-something mile day, starting off with some more serious climbs and nearly unbearable humidity. Nearly to state #13. Holy crap.