Around 4 am, I tiptoed out of the shelter to go pee in the dark. Not long after I got tucked back into my sleeping bag did the sky open up. Rain pounded against the metal roof and thunder roared with such an intensity that it shook the entire building awaking everyone inside. Flashes of lightning illuminated everything, creating brief moments of illumination inside. Thank God the Stratton Pond Shelter had an enclosed picnic area in the front because the wind carried the rains into the first few feet on the deck and I would have surely been soaked otherwise.
I looked across to Marie whom I had planned to hike to Story Spring Shelter with today and told her there was no way I was hiking in this storm and that I’d be staying here again today while it raged on. I rolled over and fell back to sleep until about 8:30, then got up to make breakfast with everyone. Thankfully my bear bar was not too far from the shelter and I was able to quickly retrieve it. Unfortunately, the Sea To Summit compression waterproof bag was not actually waterproof but only a little resistant. The inside was soaked but thankfully I put everything into a plastic grocery store bag and that seemed to keep my food safe. Plus, everything I had was in Ziplock bags.
Bee’s Knees and Princess suited up in their oversized ponchos so that they covered their packs as well as their bodies. They looked like a giant blueberry and grape. They needed to get going regardless so the intense rain since they had a reservation at the Green Mountain House. I had also tried to make a reservation there when I had heard about the storm coming in, but they book up fast and typically people book 3 to 4 days in advance. But now that the storm was here I was glad I didn’t have to hike in it. It was coming down so viscously it looked dangerous to be in. The ground was flooding and it made it impossible to see what was in front of you, never mind the wet rocks and trying to spot the blazers marked on the trees. Marie asked if I wanted to get going too. I said no. The shelter was dry and I knew there was no way I’d manage out there with my ankle still tender as it was. Marie decided she’d stay too and when Elizabeth heard this she decided she’d join us as well. Eventually, all the men left and it was just us three women.
The rain came in heavy and gentle waves throughout the day. It was like a river flowing from the sky. None of us wanted to trek the 1 mile down and back to get water so we lined our bottles, cups, and pots outside to collect rainwater. It was raining so heavy we were all filled up nearly instantly. A little after noon a group of college hikers came by along with an older gentleman. They all chatted and ate lunch with us. They were completely soaked through. One of the kids was not feeling so well so he climbed up in the loft above to take a nap. The older gentleman decided he’d spend the rest of the day with us. He looked completely exhausted from being out in the storm.
After some Raman, I decided to get back into my sleeping bag since I was getting cold and I took a 2-hour nap. My body truly hated me. Everything hurt. I woke up around 3pm. The girls had taken a nap too and we all migrated back to the front of the shelter to sit under the overhang and get some light. The main part of the shelter was incredibly dark, it felt like a cave and I was desperate for some light.
Marie sat by sketching in her Trail Journal. This was her 5th and last section to complete in order to finish hiking the Long Trail. Her drawings were simple yet intricate. Seeing her work reminded me just how much detail and variation you could do just using a pencil. In the past few years, I had gotten so caught up in painting that I had forgotten about drawing. It hadn’t even crossed my mind as something I could do while out here. I had originally planned to bring my watercolors but last minute decided not too because I figured I wouldn’t find the time. That’s when I remembered I did bring my embroidery threads. I had been so busy just surviving that I hadn’t had time for anything else.
I pulled out my purple sun hat and began embroidering the beautiful black butterfly with white and blue details I saw when I first came out here with Len over by Prospect Rock and then drew the outline of a black bear to represent the night at Griffin Lake. As I was sewing, I had my Platypus Hydration sack hanging above my head and I accidentally pulled too hard on my needle and stabbed it. Water started spewing from the bottom. Luckily, Elizabeth had duck tape easily accessible. After patching the hole I decided I had enough of the day, journaled, and went to bed.
The person sleeping above me in the shelter would not stop tossing and turning all night. The sound of nylon rubbing against a sleeping pad, sliding across wood over my head constantly woke me up. And just as I’d start to fall back sleep, the man at my feet would start snoring. Rain continued to fall in waves and so I waited for a break to run out to pee. People started getting up around 5:20, but I rolled back over for another hour.
I couldn’t believe today was really going to be my last day. I didn’t want my story to end with me just sitting by Stratton Pond reflecting on everything that had happened. I needed one last adventure before heading home. I wanted to end on an exciting note that would help inspire me to want to come back to experience more and complete the Long Trail.
Sitting up, I pulled out my map and began reviewing the side trails that led back to the Stratton Pond Trail Head parking lot where Len would be picking me up later on tonight. I saw a loop and decided to plot it out. It would be exactly 8 miles and fairly flat which would be good for my ankle. My last day hoora would take me from the shelter, down to Stratton pond, west onto the Lye Brook Trail over to Bourne Pond where Len and I had seen all the blown-up tubes people had been using to float across the water, then south onto the Branch Pond Trail until I hit the Stratton Arlington Rd. Then I’d hike east down to the parking lot.
I took my time making breakfast, oatmeal with raisins and a cup of chai tea before heading out. As I started walking I began to smile, excited for one last adventure. I said my morning prayers and listed everything I was grateful for. And I asked for guidance and protection on my travels for that day. The path around the pond was beautiful. The water shimmered in the sunlight, birds sang and newts slithered out of the path as I walked. The cold wind blew harshly through the thin tree line causing waves to crash rhythmically against the shore.
There was a thin trail going up a hill away from the main trail. It looked to be crushed and carved out by animals coming down to get a drink of water. As I kept going, I reached a plank bridge dividing the pond from a swamp. Many of the planks were rotting and broken. I gingerly began to cross, testing each slab of wood before putting full pressure down. Hundreds of tiny fish swam beneath my feet and I could see Stratton Mountain off in the distance.
Looking at the map, it seemed I should have come to the Lye Brook Trail intersection by now. I decided to turn back thinking that the thin trail I had seen earlier on might have been it. After all, the part of the Lye Brook Trail Len and I had experienced the first weekend I had come out here was all bushwhacking due to it begin extremely overgrown and unmaintained. But unfortunately, after some walking without seeing any trailblazers, I decided it was not the path. I took it as a sign from God that I was better off spending my last day sitting by the water, journaling, and embroidering rather than potentially getting lost in the forest and injuring my ankle further.
My bear bag and a few other items were still drenched from the storm so I laid everything out in the sun to try once I got back to the main swimming section of Stratton Pond. Afterward, I threw on my long sleeve pajama top over my tee shirt to keep a little warmer as the wind blew. It wasn’t supposed to get over 65 that day and the temperature would likely continue to drop so I wanted to wait to put on my sweater just yet. I wanted to wait until after I walked the 4 miles back to the parking lot before I layered up. I didn’t want to get it wet with sweat because then I’d end up even colder. But as I sat there and the wind became harsher and harsher, I decided I couldn’t take the cold anymore. I started my hike early just to get into the cover of the forest for warmth.
As I walked I was hit with waves of emotion. One part of me was a little sad and surprised my journey as really nearly over, another part of me was super proud for coming out here and doing everything I had set out to concur, and yet I was still a little nervous of the noises that surrounded me as I reflected on my many animal encounters.
I started thinking about what was important to me and came down to these three things: One, remember to trust in God and know he is always with me. Two, being with community, friends, and family is where true happiness lives. And three, I am absolutely in love with Len and want to spend the rest of my life with him. I want to share my experiences with him, build community, and have a family. I want us to embrace live together in every possible way.
I passed so many snakes and frogs on my way back, but when I hit my trekking poles against the ground, the vibration would scare them enough to slither out of the way. And then without much notice, I started to see the road and I started running for it. When I broke through the tree line I smiled and took a deep breath knowing my mission, the tasks I had set out for, were truly done. But I still had nearly 3 hours to kill before Len arrived.
There was a truck in the parking lot and I noticed a fly fisherman in the river beneath the bridge. I set my pack down and used a few baby-wipes to clean the sweat from my face, back, and pits. Then I quickly switched out from my sweat-drenched shirt and put a dry one on along with my sweater. Once I was all set, I walked out to the dirt road in hopes that a car might come by so I could possibly hitch a ride into town while I waited for Len instead of in that desolate parking lot.
The fly fisherman came up from under the bridge not too long afterward and I asked for a ride. He asked, “where to?” I said, “Town.” He laughed shaking his head, “There is no real town around here, only a gas station.”
“Oh. There’s not a café, library, restaurant or anything?” I asked as he continued to shake his head. Looking down at the dirt, he said, “There is the Stratton Ski area. I’m not sure if anything is open over there this time of year, but I’m pretty sure there’s a bar there that opens up at night.” He suggested. “That’ll work,” I said taking whatever I could get. “Alright, let me just move a few things around in my truck and you can toss your bag in the back.”
Once the door opened, I could feel my heart starting to pound. What was I doing? I had never hitched hiked alone before. I had only done it once with Chili. I was alone with this man and completely isolated from anything. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. I got in while silently praying to God that I’d be safe. He started sweating like crazy and looked nervous which made me even more nervous, but once we started chatting I knew everything was going to be fine. He was a 5th-grade elementary school teacher enjoying his summer break. I ended up talking about the animal that had tried to break into my tent the other night and he said there has been a problem bear for a while around Stratton Pond because so many people day and weekend hike there since it has easy access from the street. Unfortunately, a lot of slack packers don’t clean up their trash or hang their food properly and so this bear has come to know he can get an easy meal around there. There had even been a few reports of it swiping at people. That made my heart sink a little.
Once I was dropped off, I called Len to let him know where I was so he could put the right address in his GPS. Fortunately, Pies the bar was open and they served pizza. I sat outside on the patio and chatted with a 9 and 11-year-old girl sitting with their Dad. They were very curious as to why I was carrying such a big bag. They also asked about my rope and every other visible item I had hanging from my pack. I humored them and watched as their eyes turned big and round as I talked. But as soon as my pizza came out, I was done chatting. I got the Vermonter. It had maple soaked sausage, pineapple, spinach and I added mushrooms. The pizza was nearly the size of the table and a bit pricey but I didn’t care.
As I ate, my eyes started to well up. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed Len. I had been so busy just trying to survive that I hadn’t the time to think too much about it. And then I saw him off in the distance wearing khaki pants, a white collared shirt, and his new golf hat from Scotland. His reddish blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail and he smiled at me. I tried to wait patiently as he walked past the stores so my ankle would not endure any more damage, but then I just couldn’t take it any longer. I slid off the bar stool and started hopping/skipping to him. We embraced and he crushed me against his chest before finally pressing his lips against mine. His beard tickled my face and he rubbed noses with me. I closed my eyes and rested my forehead against his. It was good to be home.
I woke up needing to pee badly but it was still dark and after last night's experience with whatever that was outside my tent, I really did not want to get out. I decided I'd give Puddles advice to try. I pushed my sleeping pad and bag to the side and got on my knees and held open a gallon Ziplock beneath me with one hand in front and one hand behind. I had to muscle control my release slowly so it wouldn't splash. I was successful and pulled it forward to seal closed when I was done. Then I placed it outside my door in the vestibule to deal with later when I got up.
I decided to leave my beer rope hanging since I planned to slack pack that day. After eating breakfast with everyone at the shelter, I went back to my tent and made a slack pack out of my sleeping bag compression sack and with a few of my bandanas. I packed water, lunch, map, and my water filter to head up Stratton Mountain. It was a nice gentle switchbacking path through a dominating pine forest. I crossed a little bridge with a perfect swimming hole which I enjoyed on my way back.
On my way up, I came across the elderly caretakers who lived in the cabin at the top of the mountain and loved to chat. Ottis, a man I met at the Stratton Pond shelter the night before was there with them and we all shared stories for a while. Ottis and I made our way to the top. This is his second time doing the AT. He enjoyed it the first time but this second time he wasn't so sure he wanted to finish. He was very undecided. When we reached the peak, we read the plack stating how Stratton Mountain was the place of inspiration for the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail. It looked over many mountains, from Mount Greylock in Massachusetts to Mount Bromley in Vermont. It was truly breathtaking. Up in the fire tower, you could literally see for miles. I enjoyed the many colors and being able to finally see over the tops of the trees. But a large dark cloud was coming in and I didn't want to be caught on top of the mountain when it decided to let loose.
On my way down, Jean the inner keeper who lived in the little cabin at the top of the mountain caught me up in another conversation. I ended up telling her about my experience the night before and she told me about a woman who had her period and was attacked by a group of coyotes, but that wasn't around there. She also told me about how a bear broke down her front door after making curry one night. Her stories left me feeling very uneasy as I hiked back down the mountain on my own. I was still bleeding and began to wonder if that might be why out of all the tents to pick from, the animal that tried to get into my tent last night came to me rather than someone else. I had researched before leaving if bears and other animals would be attracted to menstrual blood but everything said no. Now I wasn't so sure how accurate that was.
I was quite nervous my entire trip back but when I finally made it there, I took the time to catch up on my journal while sitting by the pond. The forecast showed down pouring rain coming in the evening and lasting throughout the entire next day. I decided it was time to face another fear. I packed up my tent and set up a spot within the shelter near the door so I'd be able to go out to pee at night as well as make a quick escape if need be.
That night I meant Bee's Knees and her boyfriend Princess. They were hiking the AT together. Last year Bee's Knees had injured her knees and had to stop, but she was back this year and determined to finish and brought along her boyfriend Princess who she gave him that trail name because he liked to look nice each day and took forever getting ready. We chatted for a while and I shared my many adventure stories with them. They said if I hadn't already been given a trail name they would definitely call me Lucky. And sure enough, as we jinxed it, later that night while cooking I leaned over my pot and melted a whole into my shirt. The Dri-Fit material was quick to catch and without a bra on underneath, I couldn't exactly just take it off with all those people standing around. So there was a lot of laughing and blowing and holding the shirt out until it cooled off. From that point on, they all decided to call me Lucky Faith but I'm still going by Faith for short.
Kaile and I slept in to about 6:30 a.m. It was so great to be in a bed, even a super thin one. We got dressed and headed downstairs to see how we could help out with getting breakfast ready. Sneaker Bear was in the kitchen repairing eggs with two older gentlemen, Pacer and Flatts from Florida who were chopping away to add into the eggs. Kaile and I harvested some basil leaves from the rooftop garden and she chopped them what I crushed fresh cinnamon and blended it with sugar.
We sat with the two gentlemen while eating and introduced ourselves as Faith and Phoenix. I had gifted the trail name Phoenix to Kaile the moment she showed up yesterday and joined me on my trail life adventure. Kaile was a holistic practitioner in real life. She had a natural gift to heal others and used many mediums to do so; everything from energy work, crystal singing bowls and much more. Her business name is Phoenix Lightworks and so I thought it was pretty perfect.
We sipped Mata tea and eat our eggs and grains while Pacer and Flats shared some of their adventures along the trail. Pacer started in Georgia and Flats started in Virginia. Along the way they connected and have been meeting up to camp at night similarly to the way River and Puddles had. They said places like the Yellow Deli are all over. Many churches let people stay with them for a night and also often supply a dinner and/or breakfast. They told us one story about how they came across a picnic area set up for the AT hikers with hundreds of dollars worth of cookout food that this couple did just to give back to the trail.
(Picture above: Kaile, Brooke, Pacer, then Flats)
Afterward, we hit Walmart one more time since I was still bleeding and in need of pads. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, when we left the parking garage the machine to pay was broken and the gate was left open so we got to park overnight for free. We were grateful for the trail magic. It took us an hour and a half to drive back to where I had started on the trail and it really put things in perspective for me. It allowed me to see just how far I'd really walked as we drove by mountain after mountain. I had decided to go back to where I had started my journey since my ankle was still healing and the more North I got, the harder the trail would be. I figured I'm going to want to come back anyways to finish the entire trail so I might as well do the easier part while I'm injured and only have a few days left to be here.
We want to The Stratton Pond Trailhead and hiked the flat 3.7-mile path down to the pond. Kaile and I enjoyed taking pictures of all the moss, mushrooms, frogs, and newts along the way. We went swimming and our clothes made bubbles in the water. I'm guessing it was probably due to the vinegar we used to wash my clothes at the Yellow Deli. We enjoyed watching the newts swim along with a small school of catfish that we first thought we're tadpoles. There were also three bigger catfish swimming around. The innkeeper, John said seeing Catfish in Vermont was unusual and we wondered if maybe someone had dropped them off in the pond.
Kaile left after swimming and I headed towards the nicest shelter I had ever seen. It had an enclosed sitting area with benches and a picnic table and individual bunk beds on the lower deck and a loft above. If I remember correctly, it sleeps up to 16 people. I set up my tent close to the shelter and hung my bear bag. A man in his seventies who went by Stone Age was sitting at the shelter when I went to walk by and we got to talking about God. We talked about how you can truly feel his presence when you are surrounded by the beauty of all his creation.
We headed back down towards the pond as we chatted and he told me he had been section hiking the AT over the past year. He only averaged about 10 miles a day, unlike most AT hikers who typically do 17-20 miles a day now that they've been out here a few months and have built up an endurance. We agreed that fewer miles were not only better on the body but also gave you a chance to appreciate nature, take pictures, go swimming, climb fire towers, and meet people. Some of the AT hikers we'd come across get so caught up with trying to do as many miles as fast as they can but they skip many opportunities to just enjoy the adventure.
Down at the pond, people started filling up the little patch of land that looked out to the water. Some people who had stopped just to swim ended up deciding that they wanted to stay. John, then said the sunsets there were amazing and so all 16 of us claimed a spot to watch the sunset slowly descend, lighting up the sky with beautiful rays of yellows and oranges until finally fading and changing to lovely shades of pinks and purples.
Together we all walked back to the shelter and our tents. I started to write in my journal when I suddenly heard something walking around. I had only been in my tent for about 10, maybe 15 minutes when the fabric in front of my face got pushed in and I backed up in a panic! I started clapping my hands try to scare it away, but it kept walking in circles around me. I began yelling at it to go away and get out of here in the deepest voice I could manage. Apparently, I did not sound very scary because it tried to get in from the back of my tent. I continued to yell and finally, that's when I heard someone come running down the trail. Neil came over from the shelter with a flashlight and scared whatever it was away.
He asked if I were alright. I ignored the question as my heart was still stuck in my big toe and replied by asking if he saw whatever it was. He said no, that it must have run off when he heard him coming or saw the flashlight. He kindly told me there was still space in the shelter but I decided to stay in my tent. I wasn't sure if sleeping with a bunch of strange men would make me feel any safer. I ended up falling asleep with my glasses on and my flashlight in my hand.
As a trauma survivor I have learned to move forward in my life and heal from my past by exploring many passions such as spirituality, art, travel & herbalism. I hope my blog can help inspire healing in others and let them know they are not alone on their journey.