Our hike in Shenendoah was a great warm-up, but not long enough to really put ourselves to the test before attempting a 100 mile hike. John suggested going for a 4-5 night trip in Maine as a warm up, but I thought it would be nice to hit another long distance trail that I’d heard a lot about – The Long Trail. This 270 mile trail traverses the entire state of Vermont from the Massachusetts border on the south end up all the way up to Canada. I had intended to pass through Vermont AFTER Maine, but we rearranged our plans and headed to Vermont.
Examining the trail maps, we couldn’t identify an appropriate loop hike because the Long Trail occupies a narrow corridor with only short side trails for access. John chose the Joseph Battell Wilderness segment based on the descriptions of the different wilderness areas, and I identified Gifford Woods State Forest Park as the nearest campground to stop at and prepare. This is a lovely campground and I highly recommend visiting it (I especially enjoyed all the empty lean-tos that were available while we were there – they make for great yoga studios!)
Initially we had intended to enter at Brandon Gap, hike north for two days and then return via the same route. Once at Gifford, though, we realized another option – we could start from right there at the park, walk north for four nights and take a cab back. This plan had two advantages: 1) hiking back the same way you came in is never as fun as going further and 2) the van would likely be safer parked near the ranger station at the park than on the side of a highway. So we called around and found a taxi service willing to pick us up in Warren Village and take us back to Gifford Woods. Dale, the man we made the arrangements with, even called us back to ask the size of our party so he knew what size vehicle to send. We choose Warren Village as the exit point from the trail map – it is the nearest town to Lincoln Gap, the road crossing that we deemed to be a four day hike from Gifford Woods.
We had a lot to do before setting out – pack up the van, dump the grey and black tanks, and fill the fresh water tank – so we got a late start, not hiking until nearly noon. The day we set out was hot – hitting 90 F at the high point, 17 degrees higher than the previous day, and humid. The weather forecast posted at the park noted that this first day would be hot, and rain was predicted for the following day into the night.
Early on in the hike, the trail merged with an over-grown dirt road. And guess what I found along the side of that road? Blackberries! They were unfortunately not delicious. After some time walking along the road, John observed that he had not spotted a blaze marking the trail in a long time. After conferring about what to do, we dropped our packs and I headed back to see if I could find a blaze. What I found was a sign pointing into the woods, where the trail diverged from the road one again. Right across from the blackberries! I may have been a little distracted at that point. Thankfully, after our experience on the Art Loeb trail, John’s awareness was raised and we quickly corrected our mistake.
We arrived at the first shelter around 4:30, but decided to continue on and set up the tent closer to sunset. We found a perfect spot – flat, clear of rocks and plants, just far enough from the trail. We ate dinner, hung our food, and entered our tent just as twilight was fading. Which turned out to be in the nick of time. Almost as soon as we had settled in, the rain started. As we lie dry and cozy in the tent, we watched a light show play out through the fabric and listened to the wind whip through the trees. I was the most scared that I have ever been while hiking, thinking that we should have paid more attention to the condition of the trees surrounding our tent, looking closely for any “widowmakers“. Tents are great protection from the elements, but are useless structurally. After some time, the storm blew past. We were safe and drifted off to sleep.
The rain held off the next day until mid-afternoon, so we enjoyed a relatively dry, though fog-shrouded, hike. Around 3:00 pm, the rain came with a vengeance. John smartly put his rain pants on, but I didn’t want to put my wet and bare legs (it was warm, so I was in shorts) under plastic. This was a stupid decision – my legs funneled the water right into my boots, filling them so much that they squished with every step.
When the rain subsided, we were surprised by a thump-thump nearby in the woods. We scanned the woods looking for the source, but couldn’t see the large animal that had made the sound. From the rustling we could hear, it sounded like it retreated into a tree. We looked and looked, but the leaves were too think to glimpse the creature. I suspect it was a bear – I don’t think any other animal can make that large of a thump and then climb a tree!
Drenched from the downpour, we pushed ahead to Sunrise Shelter to avoid setting up the tent in the rain. Sunset was approaching fast, but we made it to the lean-to just before dark. As we hung our wet clothes under the shelter in a futile attempt to dry them, another hiker joined us. Our shelter-mate “Florida Mike” had hiked to Brandon gap in an attempt to hitch a ride to town because he was dreaming of pizza and a dry room, but the road just didn’t have enough traffic for him to find a ride, so he was forced to turn back and join us for the night. Mike is a serious ultralight Appalachian Trail section hiker. On this trip he decided to forego a stove and eat only power bars for the entire duration of his Long Trail thru-hike. No wonder he fantasizes about pizza! We had a long conversation with him about gear and the merits of section hiking before settling down to sleep.
The next morning, we did not wake to an amazing sunrise as the shelter name may suggest; a thick layer of fog veiled the view. John and I got an early (for us) start, hiking out around 8:45 am. Talking to Mike got me thinking about our tendency to start late and hike slow. Our pace makes for a more relaxing experience than some trips I’ve been on, but if we expect to cover 100 miles in 10 days (and 10 days is already a whole lot of food to carry!), over more challenging terrain, than we really need to cover more ground per day. I expressed this concern to John, and for the next two days we really booked it to push how many miles we could cover in a day.
Upon parting, Mike had promised us that there were some good views on the summits ahead of us. Unfortunately, the clouds never burned off and the views were only of light scattered through water droplets (i.e. fog). The rain continued, and there was so much water that we identified with the hiker who wrote in a shelter log book “The Long Trail? The Long Stream is a more apt name!” At one point, the long trail criss-crosses over ski slopes in the Middlebury Snow Bowl. In the fog, shivering with cold and repeatedly walking over these slopes, I feared we were walking in circles. Thankfully, we eventually emerged at the next landmark, a road crossing.
By the time we reached Boyce Shelter, our home for the night, our feet were soaked from walking in a stream of a trail and through mud pits that overcame the top of our boots. The last part of the day was pretty miserable – we were both hungry, having forgotten about some of our available lunch food, and chilled from our wet feet. Walking in wet shoes is really unpleasant, worse than wet shirt or wet pants. We spent a good deal of the day dreaming of hot showers and what we would eat when we finished the hike. Thankfully the night was dry – entries in the the shelter’s log book attested that the roof leaks. We hung everything up, including the tent still wet from the storm. We took over the entire shelter and crossed our fingers no one else would come to sleep there. It was all in vain – the air was still too moist for any of our gear to dry.
Everything improved on the fourth day. Late in the afternoon, the fog finally burned off and we got our first views of the day, gazing west at the Adirondacks. Our spirits lifted, we covered ground quickly. We arrived at the final shelter of our hike at only 3:30 pm, and decided to continue so we would be off the trail as early as possible the following day – we still had a 5+ mile road walk to town once off the trail. Just before the shelter we came to a sign marking the shelter on one side, and the water source – a spring – on the other. On my last step toward this sign, I was distracted and did not pay enough attention to my foot stepping onto a wet rock. Landing in the mud, only my ego was injured – I was now behind John 2-1 in the number of spills taken. I stared at the sign stating “Spring ->” vaguely wondering if we should fill up on water, but still too upset about falling to say anything. We’d become lax about noting water sources, given the ample availability of water everywhere around us.
Some ways past the shelter, we encountered a south-bound through-hiker. Mike’s complete opposite, this man was laden with gear and aimed to complete the trail over the full month of September, compared to Mike’s ultralight and ultrafast 16 days. This hiker asked us about potential tent sites south of the shelter, and we asked about sites to the north. He told us of a place called ‘Sunset Ledges’, marked on his map but not ours. “The ledges, well that’s a big rock, you can’t miss it! And on the other side, there are some good tent sites.” He said he had left the ledge two hours earlier; it was 4:30 so we figured we’d just make the Sunset Ledge by sunset. And now the sky was clear enough to actually witness the sunset. What a romantic way to end a very soggy hike.
An hour later we finally broached the water supply topic. Looking at the map, we discovered to our dismay that the spring at the shelter had been our last opportunity to fill up. Our best hope was to find a stream-like section of the trail and collect there. Ugh. Once we found a large enough trickle of water, we dug out the funnel-filter and iodine tablets we use for water purification. Filling the bottles was slow, and the results were brown. If only we had thought earlier, we would have bottles full of beautifully clean spring water! So sad. We held off treatment in case we found a better source. A hundred yards later we did – not a lot better, but I insisted on dumping my two liters of mud water for this new water. A bit green from the swampy area it came from, and forming a white foam where it dropped a few inches into a small pool, it was still an improvement on the mud water. All this water collecting cost us a good deal of the daylight that was by this time in short supply.
We hurried on, intent on making it to these Sunset Ledges. Each time one of us spotted a site flat enough to tent on, we’d confer about whether or not to stop and decide to press on to the promised Sunset Ledges. Even past the time we had agreed to stop, we kept pressing on. We ran over the last summit, a short but rocky series of three peaks, hardly even noticing the view except to determine that each rock did not offer a clear enough view west to warrant the name ‘Sunset Ledge’. Finally, minutes before sunset, we had to give up. We found a small clearing facing west, but it did not live up to the man’s description of a large rock we couldn’t miss. I found a great branch to hang our food from, but when I prepared to throw the line over, I thought “there was no way I can throw that high”. I tried, and the line sailed over the target on the first try! Certainly a highlight of the day for me.
Just as I was finishing getting the line ready to hang our food, John called me over to watch the sunset. We spent our final evening on the Long Trail sitting on the small clearing, sipping whiskey and watching the sun dip behind the Adirondacks across from Lake Champlain. We may not have made it to THE Sunset Ledges, but we had our own sunset ledge.
Our tent site was too close to the trail for comfort, and looking at the map I realized we were barely more than a mile from the Lincoln Gap trailhead, so we decided to get up right at sunrise to breakdown camp before anyone came by. We passed the actual Sunset Ledges, just as the hiker had described, about 20 minutes into the day’s hike. Even though it was so close, our decision to stop short was the right one – we barely had camp set up when the dark of night set in.
After such an early start, we were off the trail by 8:00 am, and started walking along to road to town. A few miles into the road walk, I noticed a folding table sitting at the top of a driveway. I thought it was odd that a table was just sitting there, so I looked closely…and what did I see, but several boxes of fresh vegetables and tomatoes sitting behind it! We crossed the street, noted the low prices listed on a paper weighted on the table, and our packs were quickly heavier than we started. After some walking up and down the driveway trying to figure out where to put the money, the farmer came out with the money box. He explained that he also had goats, and we bought fresh chèvre along with our vegetables. He offered to give us a ride into town after he milked one last goat. Once we realized he was going to a different town than Warren, where we had arranged our ride, we thanked him and continued walking.
After the exchange with the farmer, where he seemed surprised that we were going to Warren Village, I started worrying about what we would find there. This place was just a dot on a map to me. Will it have a business open on a Sunday where we can use a phone (we were out of cell range)? Will the place where we wait for our cab ride be sketchy? Between enjoying the unexpected treat of fresh tomatoes and worrying about what we would find in Warren, I completely failed to take note (and pictures) of the Sugarloaf Mountain we passed. I have been looking into Sugarloaf Mountains everywhere we’ve been, but most turn out to be privately owned, not publicly accessible.
We reached the highway, and the only business was a car lot with a sign posted ‘Picking up a customer’ that looked like it had been there for weeks. Checking the map, we saw we needed to walk a bit further on. Getting even more nervous about finding a place to call and wait, we walked on. I approached a woman trying to keep her two off-leash dogs from running into the street near a covered bridge, and asked about finding a phone. She recommended the ‘Warren Store’, a five minute walk away. Across the bridge, suddenly we were in a tourist town! Nothing to worry about at all. People were out and about on foot, one couple even stopped to chat with us about hiking, and we made our way to the Warren Store. A tourist general store, selling local artisan products and housing a deli and bakery, was a very nice place to end the trip.
We filled up on tasty sandwiches, then John tried to get a hold of Dale at the taxi service for our ride back to our home. But Dale couldn’t be reached, and when he called the only other nearby cab company, he received a message that the number was disconnected. On a brilliant whim, he decided to try the disconnected number from the free phone outside the Warren Store…and it worked! [John’s note: When dialing from the store’s landline, I did not dial the three-digit area code. I think the issue had something to do with the routing when dialing the full ten-digit number from my cell phone.] The local cab service agreed to give us the ride, for a third less than the other company had quoted. A really bright end to a rather dreary hike.