We were about ten minutes into our twenty-five day hike on the Long Trail, still two miles south of the Vermont border where the 275-mile Long Trail begins, when I said, “We’re not going to make it.”
“What do you mean?” Jan asked. We’d been planning this trip for a year and a half; Jan had flown in from Juneau for this adventure.
Despite all our planning, from gathering gear to packaging our own homemade, dehydrated meals, the reality of hoisting our thirty-five pound packs and heading into the woods was staggering. Thank goodness for our hiking poles, which helped us balance.
Nevertheless, after just ten minutes on the trail, the improbability of what we were attempting hit home, and I was momentarily ready to accept defeat.
But defeat was not an option.
We’d both turned sixty within days of each other earlier in the year, and a major point of the trip was to figure out how we wanted to live this next phase of our lives. No one said it would be easy. So we toiled uphill until we intersected the Appalachian Trail, turned north, and crossed the state border into Vermont.
That was the last time I considered defeat. Once we were on the Long Trail, life became simple: walk north. That’s all we had to do, and that’s what we did. Daily. For twenty-five days.
That first day, we established our routine: arrive at camp; shake out our sleeping bags; sponge off the day’s sweat; cook & clean up; record the day’s exploits; collapse.
In the morning, we’d eat breakfast, pack up and walk north, stopping to rest, eat, admire mushrooms, filter and drink water, and talk until we reached our night’s destination.
The next day: Repeat.
Life was simple, really: we were on the trail eleven hours a day, walking anywhere between 6.8 miles (our shortest day) to sixteen (our longest). We reached our stated goal every day but one, when we had enough miles under our soles to have the wisdom to stop four steep miles short of the shelter rather than risk climbing difficult terrain in the dark. We hitched to a nearby state park and pitched our tent instead. There were even hot showers. It was a good call.
We walked and we talked.
Jan and I met in college and have been friends for forty-two years, most of them spent on opposite sides of the continent. We’ve only seen each other a handful of times since we graduated in 1978; mostly, we’ve been busy in our respective bailiwicks, raising our daughters, building careers, engaging in the civic lives of our communities, and being good daughters to aging parents, good sisters to our geographically dispersed siblings, and good friends despite long silence.
On the trail, we made up for the long silence.
At first, it didn’t seem as if twenty-five days would be long enough to hike 275 miles or catch up on thirty-eight years of thick living. We didn’t fall silent until about Day 20, when it became clear we were not just nearing the end of the trail, but that we were going to reach it.
Our silences never lasted long, and this one was no exception, because it spawned the questions that occupied us until the end of the trip: What did we learn from the Long Trail? And how would we bring those lessons to bear on our off-trail lives?
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Till next Wednesday: Happy Trails!