Since finishing my end-to-end hike on September 8, 2016, I’ve been back on the trail three times. Each time, the trail’s both different and the same.
It always feels good to be back in the saddle: boots laced, water bottle filled, pack shouldered. As soon as I hit the trail I remember what a wonderful adventure Jan and I had, first preparing for the hike and then living on the trail for twenty-five days. Returning to hike small sections is a continuation of an adventure that was transformative.
In mid-October, Tim and I hiked to Griffiths Lake for an overnight. Returning during foliage and wading through the confetti of already fallen leaves was breathtaking. I’m not using metaphor here, just reporting on the effect of the beauty of blue sky through the lacy canopy with golden light shining on yellow leaves. The sounds were different, too. Most notable was the audible splash of water running in the streams, singing an end of summer’s drought.
That night, we cooked by the lake and ate around a campfire with a half-dozen other late season hikers out for the weekend. The full moon rose like a giant searchlight, illuminating the forest well into the night.
The moon had been full when Jan and I were there, exactly two lunar cycles before. This reminded me I hadn’t been outdoors so much since I returned, hadn’t been paying much attention to sunrise, sunset or the phases of the moon. I was glad to be reunited with this elemental awareness of the universe, which is so easy to observe when living outdoors, and requires an effort when living inside.
Thanks to December snow, we celebrated Christmas by snowshoeing up Stratton. Prior to hiking the Long Trail, I never would have allowed myself this freedom of Bucking the Usual Christmas Traditions. I would have felt obligated to decorate, bake and cook in addition to shopping for gifts. I didn’t do that this year. Instead, I was both profligate and sincere with my holiday wishes, and delighted to be liberated from the demands of required holiday observance. Instead of spending the day indoors, we spent it outside on a sparkling cold winter day.
SPRUCE PEAK SHELTER
New Year’s Eve was more ambitious. We trekked two-and-a-half miles to Spruce Peak Shelter on snow shoes, carrying thirty-five-
pound packs for a single overnight. That’s as much as my pack weighed when fully supplied at the start of my month on the trail. The difference was gear: we carried substantially more clothing, all of which we wore. Unlike at Christmas, we also carried an elaborate meal. I prepared and carried a container of shrimp scampi; all we had to do at the shelter was boil pasta. We even had “ice” for our bourbon: a handful of newly fallen snow. Deluxe.
The winter landscape was a revelation. In summer, the Long Trail is a path through the woods with occasional views from lookouts and summits. In winter, we could see through the bare forest into the valley, where modern life pulsed with traffic and electricity. Who knew civilization was so close by?
The Winslow Homer sky in the late afternoon obscured the horizon with purples and yellows and whites, grays and blues. I couldn’t tell where mountain met sky; it was all color in the distance. New Year’s Day morning, the foreground was all sculpture: the trees and boulders, outlined in fresh snow, was a garden of abstract line and light. We pointed out different works of nature’s art as we hiked without packs to Prospect Rock; the four-mile round-trip was a glorious way to start the New Year.
Jan and I had arrived there late on a sticky afternoon of a humid August day and were exhausted. We’d stopped to rest, and the view revived us. It was good to remember that heat in the wind-chill of winter, and good to remember our determination on that fifteen-mile day, chronicled in detail in my journal. We hiked from our campsite south of Stratton Mountain, over the summit, and down to the pond, where we peeled our clothes and jumped in for a quick rinse, hurried by distant thunder. Ten minutes later, we were on the trail again, with eight miles more to go.
I carried the second volume of that journal with me on this trip, and after crawling into my sleeping bag at 9:30 on New Year’s Eve, I wrote affirmations.
I have endurance: the ability to withstand a difficult situation without giving up.
I have stamina: the ability to sustain prolonged physical and mental effort.
I can bring my mind to bear to the task at hand with mindfulness, with breath and with stories.
I can live the Lessons from the Long Trail wherever I am, all the days of the year.
I’ll be giving a presentation on Lessons From the Long Trail, with slides, at the Moore Free Library, 23 West Street, in Newfane on Thursday, January 12, 2017 at 6 PM. Free, accessible and open to the public.
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