It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that yesterday morning Santa and I got off the trail for good. It’s most important to first note that we were not driven off by the nor’easter that came through Vermont at the end of last week. We were not underprepared, we were not physically incapable, we were not naïve to the terrain ahead, we were not, and are not, intimidated by the mountains and what they held in store for us. Friday night my hiking partner and dear friend Santa spoke to me regarding his thoughts on our hike as it stood. He voiced concern for his current mental health and happiness, noting that the distances we were covering in order to attempt to finish in Canada in a mere 15 days were wearing thin on him and his decision making abilities while hiking. His timing in bringing it up after leaving Killington was intentional; we both were one hundred percent comfortable with our gear and abilities to hike out of the warm environment at the Inn and face the weather that was headed our way. I think, though I never had any doubts, we needed to know for ourselves that we could do it.
After the first fifty or so miles of trail I was often in the range of manageable pain while we hiked, my right knee claiming most of the responsibility for discomfort as the trail twists on steep climbs and sharp rocks jut out under the snow as we move along. I can’t break the remaining 150 miles of snowy trail on my own, nor would I ever be comfortable attempting to cover the rest of the distance without a trusted fellow hiker like Santa. As luck would have it my mom was visiting a family member in western Massachusetts this weekend and was able to drive north to pick us up from Brandon Gap on Vermont’s Route 73 on Saturday morning. After long discussion and careful consideration he, partially me, and therefore we, are done with our attempted Long Trail thru-hike this winter.
I’m struggling immensely with this decision and have been since the moment I got in the car, but there are a handful of things I keep reminding myself of: primarily the facts that we didn’t quit, and that we most certainly didn’t fail. As a team we were not operating at 100-percent and the trail that lay ahead would be the most snow covered and difficult terrain yet. To go into that knowingly having hesitations on either of our parts would be a detrimental and perhaps dangerous mistake. In the nearly two weeks we spent in the woods we faced sub-freezing temperatures all but one day, sub-zero temperatures on two nights, and three days of heavy snowfall, the latter two a result of a major winter storm. When I struggled internally with the trip I would remind myself regularly that it would be “only _____ more days”... Only two more weeks in sub freezing temperatures and fighting through nearly every one of the 35,000 steps I take each day, but the desired/required mileage may very well have been out of our reach in the more challenging northern sections of trail. I’d liked to have finished, I’m driven to a fault, to a point where I’ll probably always regret not going down with my fists swinging. All that being said, the bigger and more pride inducing fact is that we covered 125 miles of the Long Trail, just under half of it’s total length in phenomenal time. I always say that it’s important to know your exits, and I believe this was a true example of that.
If you live an ordinary life, all you’ll have are ordinary stories. We went out and challenged winter and ourselves in the surprisingly secluded mountains of Vermont. It should go without saying that this awesome 100+ mile trek will serve as a phenomenal basis for an adventure/trail I’ll have to finish in the near future. I’ll conclude this by noting my most sincere gratitude for your unwavering support and enthusiasm with all that I do, and the hope that you’ll join me again on whatever journey comes next.
Onward & upward.