This Open Road

A season walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail

Backpacking the Long Trail: In Words

(To see pictures from this trip, go here.)

More than a month has passed since my last post, and quite a bit has happened, all of it good. As I type, I’m sitting in my apartment in Nagoya, Japan (waiting out a typhoon!), where I’ve just begun my fourth term with Westgate.

The break between the spring and fall terms was six weeks and I realized a few months ago that this would be the perfect time to attempt to hike the Long Trail (273 miles) in Vermont, which, while merely a fraction of the distance of the Appalachian Trail (2,185 miles), is still considered to be one of the most challenging among the established trails in the U.S. So I spent the last few weeks in Japan making plans for this hike and convincing a few friends (it wasn’t hard) to be a part of this adventure. I set aside three weeks to hike the trail. As it turned out, I finished it in 18 days.

On August 11th, I flew to Boston where I met Jamie, a dear friend I’ve known for many years, from our time working at a medical facility in Boulder. Jamie now lives in Maine and drove down from Portland to meet me at the Boston International Hostel. We spent the afternoon and evening walking all over Boston, talking, and enjoying the best Italian meal I’ve ever had at one of the many restaurants just blocks from the Old North Church. We walked along the Freedom Trail, through the historic Beacon Hill and North End, along the Charles River and the Theater District. The weather was perfect and it was a great time to reconnect.

We were up early the next morning since I had to catch a 7:00 a.m. bus to Montpelier, Vermont, where I would meet two other good friends, Jan and Betsy, who would be part of my trek. So Jamie and I said our goodbyes, she drove back to Portland, and I donned my backpack and walked to South Station to board my bus.

As we pulled into the small town of Montpelier, I received a call from Jan and a text from Betsy – they had both arrived at the same time (but separately) and had seen the bus come into view.

I met Jan (trail name: Truly Blessed) on my ’98 AT thru-hike. She lives in Vermont and has also hiked the Long Trail. I met Betsy (trail name: Nachita) on the 2nd half of my 2nd AT hike in 2011, when she thru-hiked with her husband, Pancho. She is from Atlanta, Georgia but was in New Hampshire conducting a leadership training course for the Appalachian Mountain Club. The end of her course lined up perfectly with the beginning of my trip and she was able to hike with me for 2 1/2 days and 35 miles before making the drive back to Hot-lanta. Jan was not able to hike with us (she met me later for part of a day), but was our blessed Trail Angel and shuttled us to the remote environs of the northern terminus of the Long Trail. (You can read Betsy’s version of our trip on her blog, right here.)

Background on the Long Trail:

The Long Trail is situated in the Green Mountain range and is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the U.S., extending 273 miles through Vermont from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border. The northern half is considered to be the most rugged part and requires careful footing, long days and patience. Much of the trail is very rocky, wet and rooty with incredibly steep terrain. There are many muddy sections giving the state the nickname “Ver-mud” along the trail.

The Long Trail in Vermont.

The Long Trail in Vermont.

There are also some significant mountains that have to be climbed including Mt. Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, Mt. Abraham and Stratton Mt. The southern half of the trail becomes more gentle, compared to the northern part, but nothing about the this trail is easy.

The LT can be hiked in either direction, north or south. I chose to go southbound for two reasons: 1) I wanted to get the more difficult northern section over with first. I reasoned that since I hadn’t backpacked for a couple of years, I’d be going slow anyway and would get my hiking legs built up quickly in this section. 2) Logistically, it would be easier to get back to Boston on my own from the southern end where there were more transportation options available. Jan was able to take us to the northern terminus (called Journey’s End, since most people traditionally hike northbound), which, besides just being fun for all of us, allowed Betsy and me to avoid the inconvenience of finding transportation to Journey’s End.

These two reasons played out as I expected and I’m very glad I went southbound. I’d do it the same way if I were to hike the trail again.

And so, after meeting Jan and Betsy in downtown Montpelier, getting some last-minute supplies and trail food for the first leg of the hike, we set off for the Canadian border.

We arrived at Journey’s End in the afternoon on Monday, August 12th. After taking pictures and making sure we had everything, we hugged Jan goodbye and began hiking south at 4:30 p.m.

18 days later on August 30th, at 6:40 p.m. I touched the Long Trail sign at the Massachusetts border.

Facts and Figures:

I took one day off at the Inn at Long Trail, near where the LT and AT merge, a favorite hiker stopover.

My shortest day was 5.7 miles on our first day of hiking. My longest day was 24 miles on my last day. I averaged 15.2 miles per day, not counting my day off.  In the more difficult northern half, I averaged 13 mpd and was able to increase the daily mileage in the southern half.

Without food and water, my base pack weight was 22 lbs. That could have been lower, but since I was traveling by plane before and after my hike, I had to carry additional flight-appropriate clothes and a few other items. With food and water, I estimated my pack weight went up to about 35 lbs, but I never had a chance to weigh it.

I resupplied four times: from Betsy’s car when we finished the first 35 miles (I left food there so I could hike with only three days’ worth at the beginning), in Barre while staying the night with Jan, Rutland and Manchester Center.

I had great weather most of the time, with only five days and/or nights of rain. There were some precarious sections on Mt. Mansfield that could have been very sketchy if it had rained while I was going through those areas, but happily the weather was sunny and clear and I didn’t have to worry about rain-slicked rocks.

Since most people hike northbound, I crossed paths with a lot of those hikers. I met about 25 thru-hikers (people hiking the whole trail in one attempt, like I did), and many section and day hikers. I don’t know how many southbounders there were since we were moving in tandem, although I heard of one hiker who was about a week ahead of me, and met another southbounder on the first night of the hike. But Betsy and I hiked aggressively the next two days and I never saw that person again.

Would I do it again?

While I was hiking during the first week, my answer was: no, not necessary, too tedious, too this, too that. By the end of the hike, I knew that if I had the time available, I would have tagged the southern sign, camped for the night, then turned around and begun hiking north. (That’s called a ‘yo-yo’.)

But instead, I continued hiking to the parking area at the trailhead and was met by the proprietor of the Williamstown Motel where I had a reservation for the night. (The motel is listed in the Long Trail guidebook as one of the lodging options in Williamstown, MA.)

From here I figured out my transportation back to Boston (which involved a detour through Providence, Rhode Island, simply because it was the only state in the East – and one of four in the U.S. – which I’d never been to, and I also wanted to see Brown University. In a future post I’ll write more about my time in Boston, Williamstown and Providence.).

Then, so fast I couldn’t believe it was already over, I was flying back across the country to Colorado, with one week to spare before I would again board a plane, this time, for Japan.

(To see pictures from this trip, go here.)

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6 responses to “Backpacking the Long Trail: In Words

  1. Jamie Jarvis September 17, 2013 at 9:52 am

    18 days!? 15.2 miles a day average!? You are an AMAZON!

    • Robyn September 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      Amazon Shadow Woman! (you saw that pic?) haha. Thanks Jamie J – it was so great to be with you before I hiked. I enjoyed remembering our Boston visit as I walked. What a great way to begin my trek.

  2. Karissa September 17, 2013 at 8:16 am

    What an awesome achievement!

    I’m moving to Nagoya to teach at Meijo university with Westgate. I hope we can meet up and share adventure stories. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a large part of my summer in Colorado.

    I’m arriving Wednesday night. Email me and we can exchange numbers!

    Keep writing, I enjoy your stories so much.^^

    • Robyn September 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      That’s great Karissa! You’re probably at the airport or on the shinkansen as I type… I’m liking Nagoya so far. Still feeling jet lagged myself so I haven’t explored as much as I want. I look forward to meeting you when you get settled in!

      • Karissa September 19, 2013 at 8:34 am

        Nagoya has left a good first impression on me. I hope we can meet soon! Are you going to be at Orientation?

        • Robyn September 19, 2013 at 7:15 pm

          Hi Karissa,

          No, I will not be there because the school I’m at is on the accredited program and we had our orientation this week. It was just a small group of us. I hope you’ll enjoy orientation – it’s a busy but fun time and a great way to meet a lot of other teachers. Glad you have a good impression of Nagoya – I’m liking it a lot too. R

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