L is for Long Trail Part 1 – Williamstown, MA to Manchester, VT, USA

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Part one of the Long Trail adventure! The Long Trail is a long distance hike that runs north-south through the state of Vermont in the USA. We completed a northbound end-to-end of the Trail in July 2018 as part of the Alphabet Challenge.

Check out the other blogs for the trail (we split into two groups occasionally so there is some cross over – with very different experiences – in the days before Stowe):

Getting Ready

We had been planning a great adventure for months – to hike the Long Trail in Vermont. The trail goes the length of the state, 272 miles, which would be about three weeks of hiking at a good pace. The adventure would provide excellent fulfillment of the letter ‘L’ in the great 2018 alphabet challenge.

With a 20 month toddler, Shirley, Lorelei and Jake were highly enabled to take on such a feat by their respective mums. Lynley flying herself over from New Zealand(!!!) to take the lead in parenting and Kathy volunteered to drive her and Shirley to various spots along the trail where we would stop to resupply. Accommodation for them was booked in advance and a fairly detailed itinerary for the hiking part of the trip was compiled by Jake.

Mark and Lucie booked the hike in as part of their world tour, dashing off from South America to meet in Boston. Lorelei, Jacob and Shirley arrived in the USA a couple of weeks beforehand.

Everyone arrived in Boston via their respective delayed flights (yes, in the tradition of typical US air travel all parties’ flights were delayed!). Next, the day before we would depart and start hiking the trail we ran around Boston preparing, purchasing food and gear. High/lowlights included us hiker trash getting confused by Boston’s roads in a non-fitting BMW kindly offered for use by Barb, incurring inordinate parking charges while we hung around REI for way too many hours, and of course scarfing down food. That night we had a full house for a New England lobster dinner (which also included steamers, artichokes, salad and corn on the cob) and a bit more frantic packing.

Lobstah dinner with good company

Day 1

Following some restless sleep, a little more packing and one last dance party with Shirley, we were off.

To access the trail, Barb brought the four of us (Mark, Lucie, Jacob, and Lorelei) to South Station in Boston. From there we took 3 different Peter Pan buses to get us to a small town in northwestern Massachusetts named Williamstown. The bus journeys included sleeping, random conversations with an extroverted Johnny Depp-lookalike, food scarfing, a strange interaction between Lorelei and a probably-crackhead in Springfield, MA (she was impressed by Lorelei exclamation that she was going to “take a huge dump”) and almost missing a bus connection due to food scarfing, which made our bus driver wicked mad. Peter Pan runs a tight ship.

When we alighted from the final Peter Pan bus in Williamstown we weren’t at the start of the Long Trail just yet. First we hung around on the Williamstown Inn lawn doing hiker trash stuff like putting on sunscreen, taking advantage of their trashcan, and talking shit. Then we walked in the smoldering heat to get to the start of the Pine Cobble Trail which we would hike to access the Long Trail. We even managed to resist the temptation of an ice cream truck! There was a little confusion regarding a Pine Cobble sign, some re-steps, and weird trekking through a suburban neighbourhood, but finally we walked on the trail into the woods.

Mark, Physio, and Lucie at the start of the Pine Cobble Trail

It was a steady, hot climb up to a lookout over Williamstown. The views were okay but the ripe blueberries were delicious. We all complained about the heat and bugs as we trekked to meet the full Appalachian Trail and then met the Massachusetts/Vermont border to begin the Long Trail. We paused at this momentous spot, checking out the hiker log book and other info.

Mark and Physio at the start of the Long Trail

We walked along and had good chats about a variety of topics. As we approached the Seth Warner Shelter where we would camp, a mere 2.4 Long Trail miles in, but for us approximately 7 miles including the hiking access trails, Mark and Lucie seemed to get a bit behind. Jacob (trail name, ‘Physio’) and Lorelei (a/k/a ‘Cashmere’) drew some arrows with sticks to tell them where to turn at the shelter junction to be sure they didn’t miss the turn and hoped for the best.

It was surprisingly long before we saw them again, which had us a little nervous, and confused. When they did arrive, Mark wasn’t too well at all. Peeing was painful and he had to go frequently. It sounded like he had a UTI. Mark even reported some hallucinations while hiking, including seeing a creek and a shelter that didn’t exist! At one stage he began to question whether Lucie really existed or if she was a hallucination too! Mark’s explanation for all of this was that somehow eating a lobster the night before, which was a fairly unusual meal for him, had somehow given him his penile problems. And so, we began referring to his problem as ‘lobster dick’. We also floated the idea of Lobster Dick as Mark’s trail name. (We are very mature you know). Don’t worry New Englanders, Cashmere did try and assure him that these were not typical side effects of lobster eating.

As we ate dinner at camp in the evening, Physio and Cashmere were sitting in shorts and t-shirts enjoying the warm evening. Even Lucie, who typically gets cold fairly easily, was lightly dressed. Physio noticed Mark was shivering quite badly, even though he was wearing a beanie and a woolen jersey. This was clearly a bad sign, given Mark is typically considered a human furnace.

We were only about two miles into the Long Trail and we were already trying to figure out the best way to get medical attention. Not a good start!

Day 2

Mark seemed to be feeling better in the morning after we rudely woke him and Lucy up around 7am, trying to get in some miles before the heat of the day kicked in. Mark reported to having fevers and very strange dreams during the night, which seemed to have brought his lobster dick situation under control.

We walked a little ways in the increasing heat, passing by a nice pond with loud and prominent frogs. Lucie and Cashmere were in the front of the pack chit-chatting. Meanwhile Mark and Physio, ‘team sportschat’ followed behind, engrossed in their sports chat, a limitless conversation topic.

Nice pond

As it turned out the sports chat was so engaging the boys stopped paying attention to where they were going and missed the turn off for the Appalachin Trail (a/k/a ‘AT’, which the Long Trail follows for the first 100 miles) and instead followed a 4×4 track. Meanwhile, further up the AT Lorelei and Lucie marvelled that they were able to stay so far ahead of the boys even on the hill that we were climbing. Every once in awhile they would stop to wait a bit for the boys then say, “oh they should catch up soon” until finally it didn’t feel right. Surely they couldn’t be excelling that much. They stopped to wait longer and asked hikers who passed if they had seen the boys. They hadn’t.

Cashmere suspected she knew what had happened. There had been a point by a big puddle where the AT turned sharply up a hill while the other option was to go through a 4×4 track downhill. She suspected the boys had, distracted by sports chat, done the latter.

Let’s look at this prominent frog – better than thinking about how dumb team sports chat were

It wasn’t clear what to do. Should we wait and hope they figure out their error, turn back, and catch up? What if their rugby chat is so strong that they never figure it out? With concern about the latter and knowledge that she would have to travel faster than their pace to catch the boys, especially given their 25 minute+ head start, Cashmere dropped her pack and started running back. She told Lucie she could wait, or walk slowly, or whatever. Cashmere ran back up a hill, over and down, then down the 4×4 track, hollering in her loudest American voice possible, “JACOB, MARK GREGORY!” She ran and ran, hollering, with no response. She thought, “how far do I go? Where does this track even end? Oh god I am going to have to go back UP this whole way. What am I doing? What if I never find them?” She ran faster, yelled louder. She ran some more, trying to dodge puddles until the track finally had turned into a stream. Her feet were wet and she was panting and hollering, with her heart racing a bit. Then, she thought she heard something.

She called again, “JACOB! Mark Gregory! TURN AROUND!” (‘And save me from having to climb all the way up this hill again’, she thought.) She called again. She definitely heard a response this time from the boys. We re-united and de-briefed. The boys had eventually realised their mistake and sort of stopped walking but then worried that the girls may have been ahead and were even further going the wrong way too and so Physio had chased further down the hill to catch the girls! Lorelei explained where the boys had gone wrong and gave them lots of crap as she walked back up and brought them the right way. They marvelled they hadn’t gone further astray while Cashmere marvelled at how far she had done an impromptu bonus run the middle of her hiking day. Probably they had lost about an hour and a half of hiking time all up, and gained some undesired bonus miles.

We had begun the Long Trail with the full intention of finishing the trail, but we had started a day later than we were supposed to and had a flight looming at the end of the trip. To finish, we needed to hike some serious miles. This detour was of no help.

Once we caught up with Lucie and were back together we walked some more. After some time Physio and Cashmere ended up ahead and descending down and down to a highway in the heat of the day. The “track” down to the highway was little more than seemingly endless jumble of big rocks and boulders. It was pure torment for the downhill haters. The drops between the boulders were brutally high and with full packs, it was hard on our knees and hips; quite uncomfortable to say the least.

As we approached the highway it was hot as hell and Physio expressed a trail magic fantasy, but with no real expectation. But then we saw a lady near where the parking lot and trail connect. For some reason Lorelei thought she was releasing wild animals she had caught in ‘have a heart’ traps or the like. But it was much better. She was filling up a big yellow box with weird hiker trash stuff to feed wild hiker animals.

The freshly stocked box had a strange assortment of children’s drinks and weird and often expired snacks. We soon found out it was food donated by the local meals on wheels. The kind trail angel who dropped it off was the local manager.

Physio with the kind of weird trail magic

Mark and Lucie soon caught up and Physio was relieved to see Mark in one piece after the steep jumble of boulders. Not exactly a haven for Mark, the notorious downhill hater. Despite the weirdness of the stuff in the trail angel box, Mark and Lucie were very excited by their first trail magic.

After some snacks and refreshments we crossed SH9 and began the steep hot climb back out of the valley towards Glastonbury Mountain. The climb was pretty miserable but before too long we were descending again towards our destination for the evening – Hell Hollow Brook. The four of us enjoyed a lovely dip and a hiker trash wash in the best pool we could find. After some seemingly delicious dinner, then some frustrating novice bear bag hanging, we had a restful sleep.

Day 3

We woke around 6am or so. Lucie decided to set off early so she could take her sweet time climbing up Glastonbury Mountain (3700 feet). Before Lorelei could catch up with her, Lucie spotted three big birds, likely turkeys Lorelei thinks. Once Cashmere caught up with Lucie we pleasantly chatted along. The climb wasn’t too bad actually, it was mostly gradual and luckily we took it on before it got too hot.

Just before the summit we stopped at a shelter for some snacks and to get some water by a cold spring nearby. It was a pleasant break. Then Lucie set off for the final ascent, soon followed by the others, and found a huge tower up the top of the mountain. It was about four stories high and relatively open both for the climb up it and on top. With the wind it made Cashmere very nervous. The tower was much higher than the trees and we finally had the opportunity to get out of the forest and see what was around us: more mountains, ski resorts, many trees, some lakes, and a touch of civilisation. The rest of the day brought us down Glastonbury Mountain slowly, through the trees of course. So far this trail had little in the way of views, except when you went up a random huge old rickety tower.

Big kinda sketchy tower
Happy times on top of the sketchy tower

We had lunch at a shelter with a great view (Kid Gore Shelter, whoa views twice in one day) and also indulged in some good card playing, 500. This also became our group’s collective trail name, “Team 500”. After lunch we hit the trail again, aiming to do 18 miles this day. As we hiked a big thunderstorm came through and drenched us all. It was dramatic but the rain was relatively warm. A beaver pond steamed beautifully. We soon came upon the next shelter, it was early evening and crowded with hikers who were friendly enough but seemed unexcited to see more hikers to potentially share the shelter with. We let them know we were going to push on a few more miles to another brook we had read about, Black Brook, where we could have a dip.

The brook was flowing nicely with the recent rain but the campsites were very wet. We had a dip and set up camp. The trees dripped on us while we cooked. Then there was a lot of drama with bear bag hanging. Physio and Mark were sent out to hang up the bear bags and had managed to get their para-chords snagged. Mark’s was particularly bad and difficult to rescue. Mark and Lucie almost broke up as a result. Given it was a bit wet outside and everyone was fairly tired, we soon all retired to our respective tents for the night.

Day 4

In the morning we had a big hike up to the top of Stratton mountain. It was a good hike. On the way up Physio and Cashmere were walking together when they saw a chipmunk go super nuts, making noises and taking massive leaps between trees. We had seen a number of good chipmunks before but this one was next level cool.

When we reached the top of Stratton there was plaque explaining that the Long Trail concept had been conceived atop the mountain. There was also another tower but this one was more enclosed. A warden/ranger also came out for a chat. She was interesting to talk to. She said she could tell the difference between the AT thru-hikers and Long Trail hikers by the length of their gate when they came past her little hut. She found Physio and Cashmere’s more confusing.

No ones really sure why Physio looks like this in the tower

Eventually we had to break off the chat with the warden to get more miles done. We were aiming for 18.5 to the road and the AT trail was harder going than the PCT, miles were typically hard earned.

As we descended off Stratton Mark complained about being hungry and declared he would need to stop soon. We agreed we would stop at one of the upcoming water sources to replenish our stocks of water and give our feet a cool bath – it was another warm summers day. After passing one lackluster water source Mark opted for a small stream. Cashmere was convinced there would be a better lunch stop further down the trail (she is notoriously picky about lunch spots) but Mark really wanted to eat. We made our way upstream in search of shade, something to sit on, and water deep enough to soak our feet. The spot we chose was pretty weird, with the seating options pretty uncomfortable – but we made do with it.

After lunch, and a short walk further down the trail, we found a glorious brook that would have been an ideal lunch spot. Needless to say, everyone gave Mark a hard time and felt regret about our substandard lunch spot.

As we hiked on Physio got ahead for a bit and Cashmere, Mark and Lucie walked together chit-chatting. While we were having a nice conversation two AT hikers passed us, asking if we were the kiwis as one of them was from New Zealand. Next thing ya know Cashmere was up to her old tricks, chasing the new hiker trash to hear all about their whole AT journey. They passed the real kiwi Jacob who shrugged at their speed and carried on slow and steady. Turns out the two of them, ‘Scrambled Legs’ and the kiwi (can’t recall his name) were making a bit of a movie about their journey and had met a few of our old PCT hiker friends on the AT this year.

Eventually Cashmere insisted on stopping at a nice lookout called Prospect Rock for afternoon snacks. The AT hiker trash were like, ‘we are just going to eat our food on this road, we don’t have time to walk 200 feet off the trail to the viewing rock’ but Cashmere made them. A little while later Physio showed up and then Mark and Lucie. The latter two had slowed down a bit as they were getting pretty tired from the rude muscular awakening provided by the Long Trail. Cashmere and Physio seemed to have some PCT muscle memory that was supporting their transformation back into hiker trash. So there was an awkward thing where we had been at the snack spot for awhile when they arrived. It would have been more polite to chill longer but the road end was a mere 4 or so miles away and we were itching to get out and see Shirley (oh and our moms). Plus we doubted all four of us could all get a ride together anyway.

View from Prospect Rock

Physio and Cashmere tried to walk slowly and wait for Mark and Lucie, even stopping to try to call Kathy and arrange a pick up at the road – which was a failure due to having a disfunctional sim card. It didn’t seem like they wanted to catch up, or were just too exhausted to. Cashmere and Physio became concerned that the other two hated them, and were keeping their distance so as to avoid unleashing their brooding anger at being made to walk 18.5 miles.

After a while Cashmere developed a poo, and Physio decided he could probably get one organised and join her for a poo date. This poo date was particularly memorable when, after the poo, Physio completely lost control of his body tripping over a branch and then proceeding to stumble around off balance for approximately 5 minutes, spinning around trying to find his feet, before eventually crashing into a bush where he finally settled. Cashmere said “what the hell happened there?”. It turns out every time Physio tried to take a step after the initial trip he hit more uneven ground, which put him further off balance until he eventually just fell over.

Once Physio and Cashmere recovered from the weirdness and hilarity of the poo date incident they continued on their way. There was still no sign of Mark and Lucie, but after not too long they started to hear traffic on the highway below, which got them all amped up to get to Williamstown and see Shirley. Unfortunately it was all an elaborate hoax concocted decades ago by the highway builders to drive hikers insane, as it took several more hours to finally reach the road. During this extended period of being “hitch hopeful” Physio started to lose hope of ever reaching the road while Cashmere seemed to be getting more energy the further we went.

Eventually Physio and Cashmere reached the road and began hitching, which seemed to take forever. The traffic was abundant and high speed, with limited good spots to hitch/for cars to pull over. Eventually a lovely woman picked us up and brought us all the way to the Air Bnb we had booked for Lynley, Shirley, and Kathy, and she even tolerated some misdirection to the house.

Shirley was almost as ecstatic to see us as we were to see her. Some time later Mark and Lucie trudged up the driveway and in the back gate. Both of them seemed utterly destroyed and Lucie was having trouble containing her anger. Her feet were in a lot of discomfort, which had made the last few miles of the day agonising.

Physio and Cashmere tried to slot back into looking after Shirley to give Lynley a well deserved break. She seemed quite exhausted, and the heat and humidity in Manchester had no doubt played a part in this outcome. While Physio got Shirley to bed the others worked on procuring dinner in the form of delicious pizza and some well deserved beer.

Day 5

The next day quickly evolved into a zero day, with Physio, Mark and Lucie desperately needing some recovery time, and the usually resilient Cashmere even showing signs of fatigue. We worked on all our usual hiker trash chores, with Cashmere in charge of resupply and looking after Shirley. Meanwhile Physio was back at the house working on fixing things and processing laundry. Cashmere’s task turned out to be at the limit of her facilities, as resupply is typically a stressful enough process without a toddler constantly trying to grab things off the shelves. She also had Kathy testing ideas with her for dinner that night. It was all too much, and Cashmere had a total freak out. Meanwhile Mark and Lucie spent much of the day working on hiker trash chores of there own, including getting replacement tips for Lucie’s hiking poles, resupplying, and doing laundry.

We reconvened at the house for lunch, and afterwards the Long Trail hikers had a deep and meaningful discussion about our future ambitions. This was made quite difficult/hilarious because Physio had taken an antihistamine for hay fever and was having a lot of trouble keeping his eyes open. It was becoming evident that Mark and Lucie probably wouldn’t be able to keep up if Physio and Cashmere tried to crank up the miles in order to finish the trail in our limited hiking window. We resolved to not worry too much about finishing the trail and to focus on making sure we actually hiked together and played plenty of 500.

After Shirley’s nap Cashmere, Physio, Shirley, Lynley, and Kathy got ice creams and went for a family trip to a local creek for a refreshing dip. On the way Cashmere purchased some new very over priced thermal pants, as she had forgotten to bring hers. She was informed that the thermals were “very technical” by the shop assistant. They were henceforth known as “technical pants”.

That evening Kathy, Mark and Lucie masterminded a delicious dinner. Physio was utterly exhausted and went to bed very shortly afterwards, while the other hiker trash had a hot tub party. We had agreed to aim for an early start the next day to avoid a climb in the heat of the day, and Kathy had kindly agreed to drive the four of us at the trail head. We would continue to hike north while Kathy, Lynley, and Shirley made their way to Rutland, where we would meet in several days time.