My First Adventure with the Van Part 3

Waiting for the snow to melt in the relentless blazing sun, I really regret not having sun tan lotion or chap stick. My lips crack as I sip the tiny bit of water that settled in the corner of the pot, a disappointing amount accumulated from the massive amount of snow I had been melting. Taking in the view of the snow covered mountains making a perfect crescent mirror image of themselves in the still indigo water, over the rim of the pot as I finish the last drop of water. Semi hydrated I continued my trek. Aiming for a saddle between the rim of the caldera that formed the lake and a large outcropping of cliffs that ended on the mountain that formed the other side of the saddle, I absentmindedly rub the scab that has formed on the tip of my nose from the unforgiving sun, probably accelerated from my lack of water. Five miles later I had to stop and melt snow for water again with the stove, now extremely low on fuel. I had a splitting headache from dehydration. I melted two pots I was so thirsty. Shortly after I started skiing again I arrived on the south facing side of the lake. I had an amazing view of the lake and there were bare spots lacking snow where I could set up for the night. I shoved a bunch of snow into my water bottle to sleep with to passively melt, since I had limited fuel for melting water. After finishing setting up camp, I rushed down to the rim of the caldera to watch the sunset. The far side of the lake was cast in beautiful pink hues that reflected the snow covered mountains surrounding the lake.

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Day 3

I had terrible cramps during the night, my calves cramping with such force and pain it felt like someone was putting me into an ankle lock. Extending then flexing my leg offered no immediate relief. I really needed to hydrate, laying in pain I decided I would use more fuel tomorrow. I really need to drink enough to relieve this cramping. I had a very fitful night, more cramps and once I woke up thinking I was suffocating. “Get me out of this bag, where’s the zipper? Shit I have the draft color pulled tight. Where’s the cord!? Relax and breath. I can’t, I am suffocating.” Okay I got the cord, damn that’s the one for the hood. Finally I get the two cords released and the zipper open only to realize that I was kind of suffocating. In the night I had managed to scoot around enough that my face was smashed against the bivy’s wall. I opened the bivy all the way and shivered for the rest of the night. Being cold was better then feeling claustrophobic. I got an early start, since I couldn’t go back to sleep. I drank the bottle of snow that had melted in the sleeping bag from the night before. I melted two pots of snow while I was packing and greedily drank them. A couple more cramps made their appearance while skiing that morning, I was beginning to feel mentally and physically exhausted from the lack of water. I melted more snow for lunch and used a garbage bag to get a little more while I made lunch then rested. Feeling physically better from the reprive I pushed on, but route finding was still taking a toll on me mentally. During my last break of the day someone skied passed me and said. “It was great to be following your tracks.” I have to agree with him it was amazing following his tracks. I was on auto pilot, no longer needing to concentrate on reading the topography and finding my way.

 

My mind free I had more time looking and enjoying my beautiful surroundings. I had veered away from the lake, but the snow covered pine forest had a fairy tale beauty of its own. The silence was only interrupted by the crunch of skis and the occasional sound of the snow rolling down the hill or falling from the tress. The guy I was following took the low route to avoid more avalanche terrain. Following him, looking up at the high route as I went, I could see snow cascading down to the trail from the slope above. There were some interesting snow features along the trail, it appeared that a small piece of snow would breakaway and it roll down the hill as it went collecting the snow like a large fruit rollup, to settle at the base of the hill.

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The tracks I was following cut back up the hill a few miles later, consulting my map I decided to do a few extra miles and avoid the steep terrain. Making it back to the van a few miles later having crossed paths with one more group snowshoeing towards me from the parking lot.

Driving back to my new place I reflected on how trying that trip was. I knew going into it that I had the wrong gear (heavy skis downhill and boots, a light sleeping bag, not enough fuel nor sun screen), but the added lack of experience in this environment really made this extended weekend trip feel more challenging then some of my month long adventures.

My First Adventure with the Van Part 2

I talked to the couple for a little bit before skiing off a little ways to give them some space. I didn’t have a shovel to build a platform or wind break in the snow, so I found a sheltered spot in a tree well and stomped a flat platform with my skis.  Setting up in the snow with gusting wind was challenging. Once I was in my bivy sack, I set my stove up to melt snow for drinking water. Once I was set up I pulled out my lighter and instantly dropped it in the snow. It wouldn’t light because of the moisture. Crestfallen I dug through my black MSR bag that I kept all my stove supplies in to get my matches and wouldn’t you know the matches that I have kept in the bag and never had to use for 13 years were not there. Shit I wonder at what point I took them out or lost them. I remember putting them in there before a trip in the Sierras but had no recollection of taking them out!

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I stuck the lighter in my sleeping bag to dry out and occasionally flicked the flint to speed up the process, the smell of flint occasionally wafting out.  Eventually I got it to work and melted snow to drink. When I was dismantling the stove from the red fuel bottle I noticed that the fuel bottle was over halfway empty. I had forgotten to fill it up before I started the ski trip. I had been using it to make coffee on my cross county trip and I really like coffee so I should have remembered I had used most of the fuel before I left. I would suffer from dehydration for the rest of the trip.

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Day 2

Woke up to a clear blue day after a night freezing and shivering with no sleep. It was 30 degrees when I went to get the permit at 4:30 the previous night and I only had a 20 degree sleeping bag with me. So I knew I was in for a long cold night! I skied up to the rim of the lake multiple times to look at the spectacular view and take photos. Haven’t seen a bad photo of this spectacular place yet. I began to get exhausted around noon from all the side trips to look at the lake. There were also no tracks to follow so route finding took some time with backtracking due to large cornices that could not be skied down. I had to cross an avalanche field at about noon that day. Right before I came to the avalanche field my left ski came off!! This did not instill a sense of confidence in my crossing the slope. As I started across the field I stayed on the ridge as much as possible. Feeling that it would have been better to fall toward the right which was only a 30 foot drop to the snow as compared to the left which would have ended in certain death, buried beneath the snow or bouncing off a tree when a slab broke off. Then I heard a thump…. I closed my eyes and my heart stopped, I thought I was dead. A small slab had broke off the right side and laid 30 feet below me. I instantly thought I am in over my head, I don’t know how to check the snow pack, there are no tracks to follow why are there no tracks!? Do people who actually know this stuff know not to cross!?! I am doing it early while the snow is still firm… that’s a good thing right!?! Okay keep GOING! Suddenly I was on a slope with no more right ridge and its perceived safety. Okay kick the down hill ski in hard like it’s a crampon and repeat. Over and over I repeated this until I was more then halfway across when I noticed the ski on the down hill ski was coming loose. I imagine this is from kicking the edge of the ski into snow with such nervous force from the fear that gripped me. Okay I see a tree well, I just have to make it there. Once there I took my ski off as soon as possible, hastily reattaching the skin not wanting to stay on the avalanche slope any longer then needed. I finally make it across relieved and mentally exhausted, stopping to eat and passively make water by melting the snow on a trash bag and in black pots while I got lost in the view.

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My First Adventure with the Van Part 1

Skiing Around Crater Lake

Day 1

I arrived at the Crater Lake station just before it closed for the night. I needed to get a back country permit for the next three nights. I opened the door to the ranger station and walked down a short dark corridor before entering the more modern part of the building.

There was a couple in front of me getting a back country permit for the night. They were doing an out and back snowshoe. I looked at their down parkas and then downwards taking in the rest of their winter outfits. Then looked at my attire consisting of river shoes, jeans and a long sleeve shirt. I was crunched for time and had not planned for this trip.

For the past few days I had driven across the country from Morgantown, WV to Glide, OR, so I had most of what I needed, more or less, in my van. I had stopped at Crater Lake the day before and the gate was locked, so I had hiked the 6 mile round trip. A ranger informed me after that hike I could ski around the lake. Usually one has to camp a certain number of miles from a paved road but almost all the roads were buried under several feet of snow, so I could pretty much camp where I wanted. So here I was getting my back country permit, the very day I checked in for my new job hours before. After meeting Janie, my new boss, and getting a briefing about my new job, I had informed her that if I did’t show up for work Monday morning it was because I got lost or died. She starred at me blankly as I relaid what the ranger at Crater Lake had said. I am sure she thought I was an idiot. At last I decided to fork up some cash and stay at a campground the night before so I could shower and I wouldn’t show up at my new job smelling as though I had just driven across the country I thought as I bolted out the door to make it to Crater Lake.

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The ranger asked me the standard questions you would ask anyone about to go on a three day ski tour who was wearing open river shoes in the winter. “Do you have any clue what you are doing?!” I replied “Kind of.” Then he asked, “Do you have a GPS?” “Yes at home” “well do you have a good map.” “Nope, can I buy one?” “Here is one for $12”

By the time I tore everything apart in my van looking for and packing what I would need, a little over an hour had passed. I started my climb a little aggravated because I had planned to park at the top because the gate was open, but the ranger informed me I had to park at the bottom and re ski the 3 miles I had hiked the day before. I ended up passing the couple who had gotten the permit an hour or so before me.

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There were whiteout conditions and route finding was hard once I passed them. I got to the top and decided to drop down a mellow slope and do some turns. I got slightly lost and could here the couple talking so they passed me on my way back down the mountain. Since it was snowing and windy, I thought it would be ridiculous to pull out the map I had just bought and not looked at yet. I followed the sounds of where I had heard them talking on my way down. The snow crunching under my skis and wind blowing it around made it hard but I finally caught them again after adding about four extra miles to my route.

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Van Life Before the Build

As I mentioned earlier, I had weeks until I was headed west as a seasonal employee for the Forest Service in Oregon. Staying in and using the van for about a year gave me time to get a feel for how I wanted to build the van, but at the same time limited me on my ability to build it all at once. I would be returning home in the winter months without a garage to build in and would be traveling in it the rest of the time, so I would not have the tools or ability to work on it long enough to complete it in one push. All in all this led me to have a build that was more for an extended weekend type as opposed to the full house like builds you see all over the internet. This actually ended up working in my favor and fitting my lifestyle a little better, since I didn’t have a second vehicle with me while working out west and I used my van to run shuttle for whitewater (ww) kayaking. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, ww kayaking normally involves two vehicles. You drop one vehicle off at point B, the takeout, where you finish and use the second vehicle to drive back to point A, the put, where you start. So, having the room to jam at least one kayak inside greatly improves my functionality at the loss of a built in shower, computer stand, sink, solar panel, battery and TV which I am okay with. I would have liked to have had the solar and battery, but it wasn’t worth it to me to lose the roof space. I am, however, still looking into a suitcase solar panel. If you do not participate in multiple adventure sports that are gear intensive I could see the draw of these other comforts, but to me the van is just a place to store for gear and often times a very cramped bedroom.

I got the chance to experience the van wide open without the build and I must admit I miss the functionality, but not the condensation build up dripping on my head in the mornings or at 1 pm on winter days when the van finally warms up enough for all the frozen moisture to begin dripping down from the ceiling. Or the coldness felt from accidentally touching the bare metal everywhere when I would roll over to protect my head from the drips with my sleeping bag. The area carpet I added and the meal boxes I slept on added some buffer but not as much shielding as an insulated van.

On my return trip home to WV from working in OR, I first went to White Salmon, WA for Thanksgiving with friends before driving south to San Diego to visit my family and to avoid as much snow as possible as I worked my way back across the US for about a month.

When I arrived at my brothers in late November 2017 I added the first thing to the van, a bed frame! I placed the frame to look out the sliding door just behind the front seats. I really liked being able to lay in the bed with the sliding side door open peering out as I had been accustom to without the van build. I didn’t think this would be super functional, but wanted to give it a try. I spent hours laying there for about a year envisioning how I wanted my van to function then trying to make the build around it. March 10, 2018 8 days shy of a full year from when I purchased it the actual build begins! Unfortunately the bed couldn’t stay behind the front seats, even though I loved the view from here, it just wasn’t accommodating anything else.

The Van

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I have dreamed of having a van since I was in high school. My parents had a blue Ford mini van, with seats that would fold down to make a bed. I remember borrowing it to go on a skiing trip. It was spring or fall in West Virginia, in 1996 and I packed it with a sleeping bag, pillow, Ramen Noodles, peanut butter, a pair of ski boots a little too small for me that I had bought from a flyer I had seen posted at work. This was before Craig’s List, hell the internet wasn’t even a thing where I lived! Well actually it still sucks in rural WV, often times more of a pain in the ass then what it’s worth. Anyway back to packing the van. I also got my skis and bindings where I worked, as a lifeguard at a pool in a gated community, that happened to have a little ski hill. It actually snowed here back then so they operated it without snow guns. The skis that were Fisher brand, white with rainbows on the tips; they were really cheap okay; were the last things to go into the van. I started my journey by driving south to Snowshoe, where I produced one of the multiple letters I had from the ski hill for my first free pass. It now cost around $20 even being a member of Ski Patrol. Next I would ski Timberline, Canaan, then finally the Wisp. I was in love with this van!!! That was the last time I would use it, life happened. Fast forward 21 years later and I finally have a van!!!!!

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I purchased a 2016 ProMaster 1500 short low top for $20,000 with taxes, new tires, and all the extra charges. I would then build it out roughly to my needs. I used as much recycled or scrape material as possible for environmental reasons. I will provide a detailed list of the cost of  the build in future posts. I had to forgo some things I wanted because I built it out over 3 years. I was leaving shortly, headed out west to Oregon to work as a river ranger. I piece mealed it together over that time sacrificing some comforts, so I would not have to keep tearing it apart to add stuff. I would highly suggest building it all out at once, so you can get what you want! 

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Since I was leaving in about 3 weeks and hadn’t started packing; the only thing I did to the van before I left was throw down a rug, put in a new head unit with a USB input since the one in the van didn’t work, hang an organizer off the drivers side behind the seat, build a fold down table on the backdoor, and load the van with kayak, skis, camping stuff, well lets just say almost everything I owned. In lou of a bed platfrom because of lack of time and space I layered these commercial type MRE’s under a mattress and carefully pulled them out as I went so I wouldn’t have a sloping bed for too long as would happen when I almost finished a layer of the meals. After 7 months I finally added a bed platform after finishing off all the meals that were my bed. Once I made it home after a few more months of traveling I finally started the actual van build before for the next trip out west.

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Comparison Between Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail

I feel like most people I’ve talked to who hiked both the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) agree that the answer to which trail is harder is, “they are different trails it’s really hard to compare the two.” That being said most hikers would probably say the AT is more physically demanding while being more comfortable and the PCT is less physically demanding while more mentally taxing. This is strange because the PCT is around 500 miles longer, hell even the abbreviation for the PCT is longer then the abbreviation for the AT! Also, the highest point on the PCT coming in at 13,153 ft is at Forester Pass, with a lot of hikers making the trek to the top of Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft as a side hike, since you pass so close and the AT’s highest peak is only 6,643 ft at Clingmans Dome. How can the AT be more physically demanding, you ask? Well first off it seems to me the AT’s goal is to go straight up every peak along the way from Georgia to Maine while the PCT is graded for pack animals, so even though the summits are higher on the PCT the trail doesn’t go straight up! Well not all the time anyway and it might feel like it does some days, but the fact that I knocked out more miles per day on average on the PCT makes me feel that this statement is true.

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Forester Pass Vs Clingmans Dome

How’s the PCT more mentally tasking? It rained the whole time on the AT and I was almost completely drained by mosquito’s. While it hardly rained on the the PCT for 2,144 of the 2,700 miles and I was strolling along this nicely graded path. So what does being more comfortable mean? For example Clingmans Dome can be accessed by a fully-paved and only half a mile long road. This highest point on the AT has an alternative route to the white blazed trail that involves driving most of the way. After spending half an hour searching for the trail head to Forester pass I can only conclude you have to hike in on the JMT/PCT the two trails parallel each other for some distance or drive to Junction Pass and hike over it and then reach Forester pass. It’s all about the access and planning that makes the AT more comfortable and the PCT mentally taxing. The AT hike is basically running from town to town getting beer and resupplies every couple of days. While the PCT involves more planning and longer hitches into town. The ability to resupply is more limited and involves more mail drops and relying on other people to take you to and from the trail heads since towns are farther away. On the AT you’re hitching because you don’t want to walk the 2 miles while on the PCT you’re hitching because it would take another day to walk into town.

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It was easier to relax on the AT because you are basically following a beaten path that is hard to miss, while on the PCT snow totally covers the trail and there are more then one set of tracks to follow all taking slightly different paths hopefully to the same place. Its also hard to relax when you are sliding down a hill trying to stop yourself with an ice axe before you pitch into an alpine lake.

“Generally speaking, thru hikers on the PCT go to extreme lengths to cut down on their pack weight. While counting ounces is important on the AT, most typical AT pack weights are more than that of what you would see on the PCT. Even the most popular packs on the PCT are themselves from ultralight brands such as Gossamer Gear and ULA instead of Osprey or Gregory, as seen on the AT. Still, gear choices always vary heavily from one hiker to another.” – Carlie Gentry

The other major difference is the tree corridor you are in on the AT, the scenery is basically the same tree cover above. It’s not until you get to New Hampshire that you are really excited about the next view. Whereas most of the PCT is spent hiking from dramatic view to dramatic view. You also go from desert to rain forest while hiking the PCT with drastic changes in environment. With that being said for me I thought the desert was really challenging physically and mentally. If someone would have asked which was harder while I was still in the desert I would have said the PCT, but the desert is not the whole PCT just part of the experience. There was much more amazing sections to overall experience that is the PCT.

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I personally liked the PCT better and would hike all of it but the desert again if given the chance. While if given the chance to hike the AT again I would turn it down, with the exception of New Hampshire and Maine. I disliked the desert so much I am dreading hiking the CDT. I am only slightly nervous of the grizzly bear, but dread having to hike through the desert again!

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I found this old Facebook post from shortly after I finished.

I finished hiking the AT on September 6! I walked over 2200 miles saw hoards of mosquitos, countless ticks, too many rattlesnakes, 4 bears, 3 moose, 1 porcupine, 1 unidentified feline and amazingly only 4 completely crazy people. The most amazing thing I saw was the views. I had became used to seeing the views, but when my father hiked Katahdin with me he stopped to look at the views (rest) more than I would have. I would have looked at the view made a mental note of it and rushed toward the top, my goal for many months. I am glad I slowed down the last day and really took in the scenery. Done!!!

Being so close to the end of this experience stirred a broad range of emotions. Excitement from almost completing this hefty goal to a feeling of loss and listlessness. On one hand I was about to complete this “once in a lifetime experience” as I have heard this referred to many times, but I didn’t want this to be a one and done. This is what I want my life to be. I had already started formulating plans for future adventures. There is no way I could see my self going back to a “normal life”. Next spring I was planning to cycle across the USA then work on completing the triple crown, with the PCT next and the CDT to finish it off. The infinite possibilities bouncing around in my head, the creative juices flowing from spending the last few months in the wilderness with not a care, but the singular goal of hiking to the top of Katahdin.  And here it was just a few hundred miles away.

I got a head of my self, I realized as I took my pack off and squeezed through a hole in the rock jumble that is Mahoosuc Notch (the hardest or most fun mile of the AT, according to AWOL’s Guide), reaching back through the opening and pulling my way to heavy pack through. I crammed about 10 days of food into my pack so I could take out a resupply to save time. Sweating profusely as I dragged the pack though the opening I doubted if I would actually save time.

Maine flies by and I arrive at the 100 mile wilderness way to soon. Nine days latter I was eating Lobster and drinking beer at the restaurant near Abol Bridge, waiting on my parents to meet me. While waiting on them enjoying another beer, they were late as usual,  I saw a moose run across the road. I had been hoping to see a moose and was super stoked to that I got the chance. My parents arrived shortly after late , but dependable and supportive we proceeded to get a campsite in Baxter.

My parents wanted to hike as far as they could with me the end of the AT.  However, Katahdin is the longest climb on the entire AT, at five miles of climbing, starting from 1,089 feet at Katahdin Stream Campground to 5,268 feet at the summit. So I was surprised that they made it as far as they did. My mother turned around before we made it to the exposed sections. Dad and I stopped just shy of the treeline to eat and and rest before tackling the windy summit push. Climbing our way to the top using rebar drilled into the rock we slowly made our way to the top which was in sharp contrast to the start of the day where I was rushing to keep up with my father. Now stopping on many occasions “to take in the view of the numerous lake” as dad put it. Not far from the top he said, “I can’t go any further.” Commenting that the helicopter ride off the top cost just as much as from where we were I urged him to keep going. We took in a few more views, but made it to the top where a group of thru hikers were celebrating the completion of their journey, gorging on a watermelon heavyweight, another hiker, had hiked up to the summit.

Looking out over the summit, before for heading down, dad following me, I know definitely that I will cycle across the country the spring after next, spending this coming year working and saving money for the next adventure.

Bring on the White Mountains!

Before I left Vermont and crossed into New Hampshire, hell yeah only two states left, I was listening to some Nine Inch Nails though my head phones trying to pump out some early morning miles, when I suddenly saw a blur of motion behind and to the right of me. Jumping as I pivoted, possibly squealing but you will never know, I fixed my eyes on a large black cat. By large I am talking the size of a German Shepherd, as it bounds onto a tree about 5 feet off the ground then explodes off, like a champagne cork, flying through the air then disappearing into the woods. What just happened? What was that? I rip my head phones out, heart pounding, as I look around. Well I wont need these for a while, my adrenaline is high enough for me to hike quite a few more miles before lunch! Could that have been a catamount (mountain lion for those not from the Northeast)? I thought the eastern mountain lion was extinct? I continue on at a faster pace then before from the excitement, looking behind and to my side much more frequently then normal!

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It feels so good to only have New Hampshire and Maine left before for I finish my goal, even though they are supposed to be the hardest sections of the trail. With New Hampshire ranking #1 followed by Southern Maine at #2. Baxter State Park itself which is basically Mount Katahdin in Maine ranks #4. With only 2 states left I have 3 of the hardest sections of trail to hike since Maine takes up two slots on the list of hardest sections. New Hampshire comes in at #1 because of the White Mountains. The start of the Whites is generally considered Mt. Moosilauke (mile 1792), ending at the town of Gorham (mile 1891). I was as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve, so motivated was I by the pull of discovering what the view on the next peak offered, I had my personal longest mile day of the AT in what was rated the hardest section. The beauty of these mountains totally overshadowed the physical demand.

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The Whites are considered the hardest section because Mt. Washington is home to the “worst weather in the world” and many climbs gain over 1,000 feet per mile. All this is worth it because of the outstanding views to be seen since you are consistently above treeline. One can even spot Wildcat, one of my favorite NH ski areas, which days later I will arrive at on the trail. The White Mountains are also one of the most popular sections of the AT. It hosts the Franconia Ridge which is a 6-mile traverse and one of the most highly rated day hikes in the country. It’s also home to the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) or the (Appalachian Money Club as some refer to it) the prices to sat at these huts are ridiculous, but thru-hikers can stay for free depending on demand. The hiker staying helps for a meal and space on the floor. Which I ended up doing once. I was trying to make a huge push over Mount Washington, but it didn’t happen. I stopped way short of my goal and was forced to stay at Lake Of The Clouds Hut before pushing on for coffee at the top of Mount Washington the next day.

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The Long Trail

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I wake feeling better, putting the last of the anti sting on my butt, I pack and start hiking again. Even though I feel better physically and mentally, I am exhausted overall but keep going. Motivated by the knowledge that I am close to what in my opinion is the most scenic, but physically challenging part of the trail. Having previously been to New Hampshire and Maine I am excited for the expansive vistas!

I knock another high point off when I summit Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. Greylock boasts the only subalpine environment in Massachusetts. The peak stands at 3,491 feet, a dwarf in comparison to the summits out west and just over half of the height of Mount Mitchell the highest point east of the Mississippi River located in North Carolina.

Approaching the top of the mountain through the fog, a dim outline of a structure emerges in the distance. I feel the dampness in my clothes, a combination of the sweat from the climb and the dampness in the fog. As the structure takes form resembling a pawn piece on a chessboard, I take a moment to get a few photos and try to imagine what it would look like without the fog before continuing on my way.

Its been around 4 months since I started the Appalachian Trail (AT)  and a few months prior to that my life freed up to enjoy this hike. Its strange because my ex wife is coming to meet me in Massachusetts for a few days after visiting a friend in New York. Her leaving is what gave me the freedom to knock this trail off my bucket list. The encounter was kind of anticlimactic nothing was really said; no apologies, yelling, screaming, or discussions were engaged in. I did, however, get two amazing OR beers from the Rouge Brewery and some gear for colder weather that she brought. We spent a couple days just hanging out, eating and chilling at the pool. It was as if nothing really had happened before, then she went back and I kept walking a separate path.

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I crossed into Vermont shortly after and the Appalachian Trail started piggy backing off the Long Trail. The Long Trail goes from the Massachusetts-Vermont boarder and continues to Canada. It is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States, built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930 and was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail.

I hike on these two merged trails for about a 100 miles before they split somewhere near Killington and the Long Trail Inn going their separate ways to different amazing destinations. I stopped at the Long Trail Inn because I was too late to get my package. I spent the evening drinking with an Aussie father and son discussing the differences in our healthcare systems. Our system really sucks! They were hiking the AT via yellow blazing. Yellow blazing is a term used for when you take transportation like a cab to points on the trail instead of hiking. They would catch a ride from town to town along the trail basically day hiking and spending their evenings drinking, then catching a ride to the next stop. I awoke the next morning to rock climbers leading a pitch outside the window of my room. I started the day in a great mood seeing others enjoying the outdoors also!

Connecticut Land of the Super Pretentious

Arriving in Kent, Connecticut everything seemed great, there were even outlets in public areas where a hiker could charge their electronics. A cyclist with a smile on his face, riding a pastel yellow cruiser with a brown basket on the handlebars, pedaled across the bridge to welcome me to Kent. There was even a place offering a free first slice of pizza to AT Thru Hikers. I passed up the pizza as I was on a mission to do laundry, thinking I would stop back for a slice later on that day.

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Well that’s where the friendliness ended. Even the local users of the laundromat seemed pompous. Yes the frequent users of the laundromat were above me, their importance lingering in the air mixed with the aroma of detergent. Should I be so presumptuous as to use the front loading washer like I belong to this aristocracy of local users or take my place with the proletariat of the top load users? I make my mind up as I notice people scrunching up their noses at me and scooting away as I go to redeem my bills for coins and yes to purchase soap from the dispenser at the laundromat. Fuck’em I am using the front loader! Waiting for my laundry, sweating, because I am wearing my rain jacket and pants since all my other laundry is in the FRONT LOADING machine becoming clean, I am approached by a gentleman wondering, “What are all you people doing here?” Is he referring to the hierarchical system I perceive to be in the laundry mat? Doesn’t he not know I declared myself one of his own by my choice of washing machine? “You people?”, I ask in reply. “Yes the dirty ones with the packs on.” Oh those people. Ha, he hasn’t discovered I am of the top load class. How does he not know who we are? The trail goes right through town. “I am assuming the other ones you are referring to are Appalachian Thru Hikers, also.” At that moment I blew my cover by saying Appalachian with a West Virginian sociolect! He knew immediately I did not belong in the front load group. After correcting my pronunciation, he immediately turned on his heels and walked away. I was not in the mood to hangout in town longer, not even for the free pizza!

This was not the same carefree beer drinking Laundry Mat as down south!

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Later after hiking up a steep incline weighed down with my recent resupply and feeling miserable in general, I approach the top greeted by people. I survey the area seeing a bench with an amazing view of the valley below. Spinning back 180 degrees I say hi back to the greeters and head for a picnic table to unshoulder my load feeling better already. As I sit, my pack sliding from my shoulders, I am aware of a sharp pain in my right butt cheek. I stand up thinking I sat on a nail and bam another sharp pain. I had in actuality sat on a yellow jacket. That brief instant of feeling better vanished. I felt defeated and if I wasn’t already 2/3 the way done I probably would have quit right then and there I felt so miserable. A couple, who were doing an overnight hike on the trail came to my aid with sting relief and Benadryl. As I fell asleep in my hammock overlooking the valley below I am reminded of the kindness of strangers and the earlier advice I received to give it a couple days before you quit.

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