MY SUMMER VACATION
Last week I went on my long-anticipated summer vacation during which my husband and I planned to hike sixty miles of The Long Trail, bringing our twenty-plus year section hike to an end.
We were exhausted and unprepared, so we stayed home, did laundry, packed trail food, and sorted gear. For an added bonus, a daughter and her partner were visiting, and we all went out for a splendid meal and our local eatery.
The forecast across the state was for 100% rain. We packed up and headed out, reaching the trailhead by 3 in the afternoon. Snug in our rain gear, we hiked three and a half miles to the shelter, where a hiker was hunkered down in her sleeping bag with a book.
The shelter was dry, our dinner hot, and the company good. We talked with Allison, whose story seemed familiar: How many Vermonters from the Middlebury area attend college with their best friends in Texas and then set out to hike the LT together?
It turns out, we’d met Allison’s hiking buddy back in July, on our way up Mansfield, just after Allison left the trail due to an injury. It was great to meet Allison – a kind of trail magic that involves people rather than food.
The rain ended and we started up Whiteface, a mountain I vowed I’d never climb again after last year.
Tim pooh-poohed my assertion that it was one tough climb, saying, “That’s because you were so tired when you hiked it last year.” I wanted to believe him. Jan and I were weary by the time we crossed Smuggler’s Notch, and we’d slowed down considerably.
But this year, even rested, the eight miles over Madonna, Morse and Whiteface are tough. Now, Tim believes me. He even agrees.
By comparison, the next seven miles were a cakewalk. Still, we didn’t reach our next shelter till near dark, where we met two energetic couples closing in on the end of their through-hike.
Rain slowed us down the next day. Nevertheless, I remained smug about vacationing with all I needed in my pack, exerting myself uphill in hard rain rather than lazing about on a beach. And there’s something about hiking that shakes loose my thoughts. I always have ideas for essays and stories when I’m on my feet.
Some of the stories have become famous – or is it infamous? The year we crossed Romance Gap I thought hiking with Tim might lead to the end of our marriage. Another year, we became separated on the trail, leading to a search and rescue with A Touching Reunion. Nonetheless, we’ve persisted.
The rain was so cold we stopped to strip off our wet things and pull on full rain gear. And the rain came so hard, the trail turned into a stream. We waded eight miles to the first shelter, where we found our companions of the night before already hunkered down. We strung more clothesline inside and festooned it with our polypro and wool until the line sagged. But we were warm and dry, with hot tea and time to read – real vacation behavior.
By the end of the afternoon, seven other hikers joined us. They were all through-hikers who knew each other from their weeks on the trail. All but one appeared to be the age of our children. And they were determined to finish the trail on Friday.
Finishing the trail by Friday had been our plan, too. But when I pulled on my cold socks and wet boots in the morning, I wasn’t really enthused about hiking all day in the rain. And the forecast for the rest of the week was just more of the same. I wanted to summit Jay Peak on a day with a view, and touch Canada in sunshine.
We hitched a ride at the next road crossing and made our way to Stowe, where we stayed at a favorite inn. Hot showers followed by salad, steak and lager at the local pub revived us, even if we were dressed in long-underwear chic.
A SOBERING SUMMER VACATION
But this was a sobering vacation. As I was hiking, watching every foot placement so I didn’t sink or slip, I thought of all the refugees in the world who walk with little to nothing to carry except their memories of lost homes. I thought of my grandmother with two little boys in 1921, somehow traveling from Russia to England, where she embarked on a ship to the US. And as it rained, I thought of all the people in Texas and Florida flooded out of their homes, which were ruined by the hurricanes. So while this wasn’t the summer vacation I’d planned or imagined, it was a sobering one that taught me that rain is enjoyable – as long as being in it is a choice and not a circumstance beyond my control.