After finishing the Cohos Trail at Notchland, we had the freedom to decide which trails we’d walk to connect to the Appalachian Trail on Franconia Ridge. Once connected, we’d hike the AT into Vermont and join the iconic Long Trail. The Pemi Valley trails offered a wonderful break from the weekend crowds up on the ridge. We hiked through the muted woods to Nancy Pond and the Falls below, picking handfuls of juicy blueberries with each slippery step tainted by the rain that morning. The trail through the valley floor follows the Pemi River and eventually hits Lincoln Woods, but we scrambled up a socked-in Flume and down the slide trail before meeting up with the AT.
Moss-coated boulders and vibrant fungi narrowed a path through lush, soggy vegetation in the stretch that followed. The relentlessly steep Kinsman and Moosilauke peaks were a test of how quickly our strength had built in our short time on trail. While my legs stretched and pulled my weight up the granite steps, I felt like a goddess bearing tree trunks for power. Yet the thick, humid air felt toxic and suffocating, reminding me with each breath how much I’d adapted to hiking in the arid West and that grounded me back into the present. Trail magic of breakfast sandwiches from fellow Triple-Crowner Early Bird graced our transition to our beloved and congested Appalachian Trail (the first trail I ever fell for, which Dingo also thru-hiked in 2015, though we never met). A visit from the VetriScience team, one of our sponsors, was another amazing chance to share our journey and lift our spirits.
The days that followed, over Mount Cube and into Hanover, are a messy blur. A part of me, the woman that flourishes in the vastness of the West, felt lost once we walked on to the AT. I’m changed from the person that hiked this trail only a few years ago, yet somehow I thought it would feel the same to again walk this stretch of trail. But it didn’t. I wasn’t walking with passion or clarity. Conversations with other thru-hikers felt impersonal and forced. Discouraged by my pace and unmotivated by my intentions, I was confused why I wasn’t feeling empowered.
I know better than to make a blunt decision to leave the trail. So days later, near Rutland, VT, I talked it over with Dingo and we decided to stop hiking.
Six weeks later, we’d return where we left off and continue the hike. Apparently a 740-mile canoe trip was necessary to rejuvenate my adventurous mind.
Things were different now. The air was cool and crisp, with leaves carpeting our path. Our choice to take a break from hiking to go paddle ended up being a smart one; water levels were better than early summer and temperatures in Northern Maine were dropping rapidly by the time we finished.
So here we were, on the historic Long Trail, a stretch we’ve both hiked more than once before. Familiar trail, colder weather and hardly any other hikers around pushed us to stay in the shelters at night, which we’d otherwise avoid during the busy season. Shelters and a cabin provided a great break from the chilly rains and a place to dry out clothes and gear. On the morning we hiked up and over Killington, we saw our first snow of the season. That was October 13th. No views on what would be the tallest peak for the rest of our hike.
More cold rain prompted a stay in Manchester to dry things out. A resort-retail outlet-Canadian swamped town was an expensive stop, where I got into an argument with a posh tourist woman who threw her cigarette butt on the ground 50ft from a trashcan and told me her excuse was “there are no receptacles.” There, our spirits were lifted when we were surprised with a visit from CDT friends, Murphy (fresh off the PCT & her Triple Crown) and Movin’ On, as they were driving back to North Carolina from Maine. I feel so lucky to have a transient community that understands the push and pulls of living on the trail and on the go, reluctant to commit to anything for too long to maintain our mobility. It’s always refreshing to see trail friends.
From Manchester, we continued on the Long Trail/AT to Stratton Pond, where we’d planned to hike the Catamount X-Country Trail down to Route 9 and begin our homemade section of the trail (about 70 miles). The recent rains left the wide trail an absolute pond. Maps showed a forest road that paralleled, so we walked that in hopes to make up a little time.
Heading into Brattleboro was uneventful until we got picked up and crammed into Chuck’s small Chevy, who’d later invite us back to his 1804 historic farmhouse. Indulging at the famous Co-Op and watching the Redsox game with Chuck and his wife Mary, was a serious treat. He has spent his life studying the growing economic inequality in America, writing books about it, and speaking with a variety of demographics on the subject. Since I have really strong feelings about our inequality being the root of most modern problems we face, I tried my best to hold back the plethora of questions I had for him. The biggest takeaway though, was this: There are people on the other side (top 1%), that DO want change. Which is, frankly, the only way change may come. That experience talking with them was another reminder that the kindness of the folks you meet along the way is what makes traveling by foot so rewarding. There is no other experience in which I’ve met such a variety of people.
The next stretch was one I’d been looking forward to; an entire day of ONLY new trails I’d connected using Google and local maps through the Wantastiquet Mountain Area, Madame Sherri Forest, Daniels Mountain, Bear Mountain State Forest, Hinsdale Town Forest, Pisgah State Park, and the Ashuelot Rail Trail into Winchester. Greeted by the best weather in days, I was relieved and energized by walking a path I’d mapped out. The trees were still green here, which meant we would once again catch peak foliage as we hiked South.
It wouldn’t be long until we had connected our primary routes and walked to the start of the New England Trail on the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border.