VERMONT, THE VERMONSTER, PART I
Dalton, MA to Greenwald Shelter, VT
Legend arrived in Dalton a little after noon. The owner of the Shamrock Inn is very kind to hikers, and being that she wasn’t planning on renting the room out again that night, she said that I could take all the time I needed and that Legend could use the shower and warm up before I checked out. A few hours went by, and seeing that the nighttime temperature would be in the single-digits, we decided to stay the night. Another zero day for me!
We can’t be certain what Legend had fallen sick to, but whatever it was, it resolved itself before he got to town. Likely a stomach bug, with symptoms of dry-heaving and depleted energy, he was able to get himself back up to normal speed with electrolytes, saltines and much needed rest. (Hiking a marathon or more everyday can make thru-hikers very tired creatures). That said, whatever Legend had overcome, I would soon fall ill to in a few days times, and much worse.
But before we jump ahead to the night that left me concerned for my life, let’s get back to hiking. What a wicked and wild adventure it has been, trekking up and over the snowbound summit of Mount Greylock, elevation 3,491 feet, the highest peak in Massachusetts. From there, the trail continued to ascend and descend, crossing into Vermont, a state that the guidebook warns can be very wet and muddy in April. And, for us early northbound hikers, when not wet and muddy, it’s snowy, icy and frigid. Just downright frigid.
I suppose that the night I’d be concerned for my life started the day before, when just after noon, the rain started, and didn’t stop. Overcast skies chucked rain as I charged up a steep 1,000 foot ascent. I was driven, in a high-speed charge, to tackle the climb. The trail continued to climb, topping off at 3,540 feet, where both Legend and I, exhausted, called it a night at Goddard Shelter. The cloud swirled and a chill in the air most certainly suggested that it would freeze that night. Great, we thought. This is going to be hell. Legend mumbled a few curse words to himself, huddled in a far corner, his gear lazily scattered across the shelter’s floorboards. I on the otherhand, tucked myself into another corner, my gear pulled up close to me. It would dip below 20-degrees and I knew my 22-degree down quilt and Fitz Roy down jacket wouldn’t be enough, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it now. I made dinner, lit a joint, and prayed for sleep.
I’m 100% sure that I didn’t get a lick of sleep. It was just so cold. I tucked into a ball, I tossed and turned, and my hips screamed out in pain. (It’s likely I have piriformis syndrome, and I try to do stretching and yoga regularly to try to alleviate the symptoms.) By morning I was drowsy, my sleeping quilt damp, and a fresh layer of snow blanketed the forest. Legend’s hiking shorts were frozen on the shelter’s floorboards and half his gear damp from the night’s elements.
We pulled on frozen shoes, wet gear, and started hiking. An hour later, my body began to warm. The forest was beautiful, and despite the cold and unfortunate evening, it was hard not to enjoy it. The trail hiked up and over Stratton Mountain, past a dozen ponds that lay frozen. I paused momentarily to snap a few photos, knowing that I had to keep moving to keep my body warm, but also that I needed to capture this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
That evening, nearing the end of a 28-mile day, I felt a wave of nausea set in. And just as I was beginning the last mile to the shelter, my body fell sick to a horrible spell of chills and aches. Everything hurt. Everything. My hips, my right shoulder, my feet. It was the longest mile of my life, an otherwise easy mile. I had to drop my pack multiple times to try aid relief, and then push on. Exhausted, dehydrated and caught in a swirl of pain. When I made it to the shelter, it was a miracle that of all the shelters on the trail, of all the usual three-walled lean-to style shelters, this one had a door, and a wood fire. You want a fire, Legend asked? I would love a fire, I said, while I collapsed onto my sleeping pad, curled into a ball, and moaned in pain. I had zero energy and I could barely take my shoes off. It honestly took all my strength to unpack my bag and crawl into my sleeping quilt, which was damp from last night. I laid my head down on my foodbag, my pillow, and the remaining food and gear was scattered, a complete yardsale, and atypical fashion to my nightly regimen. If there had been mice, which there wasn’t, I would have been crawling with them.
Meanwhile, Legend got the fire cranking, and by morning my sleeping quilt would have reclaimed it’s full loft. As he was having a romantic looking dinner by himself at the table, beside a candle fashioned out of a PBR bottle, I was lying in phycosis, so much so that at one point, right before taking a pain pill, I placed my fuel canister, in which my socks were wrapped around and frozen to, beside the fire. Legend walked over and decided it was best to remove the socks, place them beside the fire, and to place the fuel tank away from any potential threat of explosion. Without a doubt, I was out of it. So much so that Squackers, my plastic orange duck, lay on the floor, seemingly abandoned and still covered in ice himself.
The next morning, another miracle. Although I wasn’t fully recovered, I felt alot better. I’m still not sure what happened, but I believe it had alot to do with dehydration. I didn’t eat much, either, and when your hiking a marathon and burning 5,000 calories or more per day, you can imagine you drop weight fast. I’m pretty stoked at the look of my abs, but the fact that I can’t keep my pants from falling off, is becoming a chore. I ate oatmeal and forced granola bars down my throat. Anything that sounded sweet, like chocolate or candy, repulsed me. It made me gag. My symptoms also would later include a brief spell of uncomfortable gas, so it’s possible I did have, or do have some stomach bug, or giardia. I’ve always been mostly asymptotic to giardia, and I’ve also always has food sensitivity to dairy and gluten, so who really knows. Maybe I need go drink more whiskey and kill whatever lay within me. With a few more frigid nights ahead, I think I’ll pick up a good sized bottle before leaving town this morning. Yes, that sounds like a great plan.
So, when all else fails, drink whiskey and keep hiking. Leaving the warmth of the wood-fire shelter, I felt good, minus one moment, before the summit of the Bromley Mountain. After, it was a beautiful day, a cold, beautiful day, and I plowed through some mikes, the trail often covered in snow, and the descents down the northern slopes of these mountains, frozen in time. I took my time, weary of slipping. It’s been a good, solid set of miles the last few days, and a good warm-up for what’s to come. Northern Vermont and New Hampshire, look out!
Gosh, it sure will be a shock to fly from these frigid temperatures to the southern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail, the second trail in my year-long quest to hike the Calendar Triple Crown. It’s a process and shock in itself to force my feet into frozen boots every morning, and to locate my camera which is always zipped into one of the many layers I wear. Just yesterday I hiked to the summit of Killington Peak, elevation 4,241 feet, in my Fitz Roy Down Parka. Seriously! When I say it’s cold, it’s cold. That post soon to come.
And one last thing. Along this section I crossed paths with Kinga, the retired high-speed locomotive engineer that I met down in Pennsylvania. There he was, out doing a section, in the cold and snow and not giving a rat’s damn. His jacket was peeled open as if the frigid temps didn’t inconvenience him in the slightest. I will take his carefree attitude with me to the north and when I feel cold, wet, or nearing death, I will embrace my inner Kinga! I will hike on! Live free or die, right? (Kinga is from New Hampshire, and that’s it’s slogan).
Alright, I got miles to hike. And a bottle of whiskey with my name on it. Legend headed out the door an hour ago, and perhaps I will catch him tonight, or in a few days time. He’s got a flight booked at the end of the month and I’m still on the fence as to when I will fly south. Driven by the idea of warmth, we might finish together, or I might finish a day or two after. I think in Hanover, NH, I will lock down my flight. We have some icy climbs ahead and nothing is certain, that’s for sure.