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.
I woke up to the loudest song of birds yet and what I thought was a moose call but later discovered it was cows. I was very disappointed. And per usual, I woke up at 5:20 a.m. regardless of how hard I tried to sleep in.
Sprinkles got up as I was finishing packing and joined me at the shelter to have breakfast. She told me she normally never gets up this early and I was jealous of her ability to be able to sleep out here. Her trail partner Iron Man was still asleep and so I lingered hanging out with her until he awoke.
The swelling of my ankle had gone down but I still wasn't quite confident in it yet. I didn't want to make it any worse, but I had to get going since my friend Kaile was driving almost 4 hours out here to bring me my resupply and spend the night with me. Regardless of the state of my ankle, I needed to climb up to the airport lookout and down to Clarendon Gorge where there was a parking lot.
As I started walking, I began to pray in gratitude that my ankle was feeling better and I prayed for the strength to get to the parking lot without any hiccups. The trail between Minerva and the gorge was not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. Some of the south-bounders said it was pretty steep but maybe because I was going slow it didn't seem that bad.
The airport lookout view was spectacular! Not only could you see the airport, but a long stretch of mountains as far as the eyes could see. There was also a tiny house tucked into the trees which was more likely a mansion up close, and a beautiful pond off to the left. My ankle had given out a few moments earlier and collapsed me to the ground. I ended up laying there for a while before moving. I was afraid that my body might actually be in shock from all the hiking and non-stop movement these last 9 days and that I might be in more pain than I realized. Maybe my body was blocking out everything so that I could survive.
But eventually, I got up, brushed all the soil from my pants, and made it to this view. I took countless photos and even a few selfies. Before this trip, I think I might have taken only one or two selfies my entire life. But when you hike alone it's kind of your only option if you want a photo of yourself doing something epic like this. I hung out for a while since I finally had service and contacted Len as well as Kaile and let them know I was on my way to the parking lot. I figured it was going to take me a while to get there and I didn't want them to worry if I wasn't there when Kaile got there.
Just before leaving the airport lookout, Sprinkles and Iron Man came by and took a few pictures of us. I could tell Sprinkles was a bit concerned about me walking by myself on my ankle but I reassured her that I was absolutely fine and left out the fact that I was on the ground only a few moments before she arrived. From that point on, the trail began its incline. Sharp rocks protruded from the ground at first but then eventually evened out to soft soil. I passed a husband and wife along the way. The wife had been doing a lot of day hikes and just earlier that morning came across a bear. She was still terrified over the situation and I had to admit hearing it made me uneasy. Her name was Sunshine.
I could hear the Clarendon Gorge before I saw it. The land began to shift to a steeper decline as boulders protruded from the pine-needle floor forest. Holding onto a tree, I leaned over to look down at the rushing water below. A very long suspension bridge was my only option for crossing. I walked up to the edge of it and examined the steel cables and the wooden planks. The bridge was very high above the water. There would be no surviving if it gave out. Such as my luck, it began to drizzle. A drizzle out here often meant a flash flood within the next few moments.
Sighing in acknowledgment of my predicament, I dropped my bag to the ground and pulled out my poncho. Then I placed my rain cover over my pack and hulled it back on. All suited up, I began to cross the bridge one gentle step at a time. And as careful as I was, the bridge began to bounce and sway with each step. By this point, I might have started to lose my mind. I began to laugh and laugh and laugh. I just couldn't help it. By to this point, there had been so many life-threatening things that I just cracked! I began to just bounce on the middle of the bridge like a giddy kid on an amusement ride. I was literally laughing in the face of fear and I couldn't control it. I took a few more steps and just bounced and swayed with the bridge, taking my time getting across that bridge bouncing as I went. And when I got to the end, I looked back and considered going back on. But by then it was raining, and so I figured I shouldn't push my luck too much.
The parking lot was very close to the bridge and so I stepped out from the canopy of trees and listened as the giant raindrops hit my poncho and danced in small puddles on the ground. I plopped myself on a boulder that allowed me to sit with my pack still attached so I wouldn't have to remove my rain gear. I tucked my head into the belly of my poncho and pulled out my phone. Surprisingly I made it to the parking lot much faster than anticipated. Unfortunately, that meant Kaile wasn't going to be there for another 3 hours.
Sticking my phone back in my fanny pack, I popped my head out like a turtle from my poncho and noticed a boy standing on the side of the road. He looked sad and miserable. And eventually walked over to stand underneath the trail sign only 5 feet from the rock I was sitting on. I said hello and we got the chatting. He was trying to get to Loretta's deli and then meet up with his friend at a hostel. But no one was stopping for him as much as he tried to hitchhike. He said it was a lot easier when he traveled with his partner because she was an older woman with all gray hair and people often felt bad for them. As we sat there in the rain, I contemplated what to do. I asked where the deli was and he said it was only about a mile away up the road.
"Well, I've heard people say you're more likely to get a ride if you're a girl or if you traveling with someone. Would you like me to try to hitchhike with you to the deli? I'm waiting for a friend and I'd rather kill 3 hours at a deli than in this rainy parking lot." I offered, confirming that I had indeed lost my mind. Hitchhiking, going into town, and talking to strangers were three of my top fears for the trip.
"Sure." He said starting to straighten up and not look so depressed. "Okay let's go then," I said standing up and walking towards the road before I could change my mind.
Cars flew by and that's when I realized we were standing on the side of a highway and not just a regular road. From time to time we put out our thumbs as we saw a truck or car pass by but that's all they seemed to do, pass by. I'm going to guess because we were two soaking wet individuals with big heavy backpacks. Eventually, we ended up just walking all the way to the deli. He told me as we walked that he burnt his pot 3 nights ago and so he hasn't had a good meal in 3 days. Everything tasted burnt. Oh, and his name was Chilli because he was always cold and shivering plus he enjoyed a nice hot cup of chili soup.
When we got to Loretta's, I was disappointed it was more like a convenience store and not a sit-down place. I was hoping I'd be able to wait for Kaile there, maybe charge my phone and write in my journal. Chilli dropped his pack outside the door before entering and I followed suit as well as took off my poncho since it stopped raining and was making me super hot.
All I wanted was pizza and ice cream. But when I got inside they said they didn't sell pizza. I was more than a little disappointed. They had subs and sandwiches as well as plenty of chips and snack foods, but no pizza! I felt like I could eat the entire world but also knew that was unlikely. I settled for a pint of Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream, a fried donut and chocolate milk.
While we were shopping, an older man entered the store and asked Chilli if we needed a ride anywhere. Chili told him he was trying to get to The Yellow Deli to meet up with his friend and the man said he'd be happy to drive us. I looked at Chili unsure of what to do. He asked if I wanted to come. At that point, I just didn't have any fears left. I mean, of course, I was afraid, but for some reason, I just knew no matter what I'd be okay and if I wasn't, well... then I wasn't. I said yes.
I had been hearing about the Yellow Deli for most of the trail. It's owned by the 12 tribes, the same group that owned my favorite bakery in Plymouth Massachussets called Blue Blinds. Many people consider them to be a cult. But even if they were, they were some of the nicest people I've ever met. I'd even gone to their home to have dinner in Plymouth and had a wonderful time. I wasn't afraid of the so-called cult everyone talked about. Chilli hopped in the front seat and I got in the back. The man told us his name was Plans Too Much.
When we arrived, the driver introduced us to the Hostile managers. Chili asked if stripper had arrived yet. Everyone looked shocked that someone's trail name was that and curious as to who it was. The man said, "no, we don't have anybody by that name here." Chili looked confused and sad all over again. "But she said she was here. She's an older woman with all gray hair." He explained.
The two hostile managers exchange a look. "Could it be the professor?" The one manager said to the other. "Yes!" Chilli interrupted. He looked beyond relieved to know she was there. The manager began to check him in and asked if I were staying too. I said, "no, but I was wondering if I could pay to take a shower while I wait for a friend?" He laughed and told me I didn't have to pay and that I could even do my laundry and sit in the common room as long as I'd like.
Stripper, the 53-year-old Baptist, English college professor walked in then, welcomed to me and showed me around. She even helped me get my laundry started and added some vinegar to help with the stench. I later learned she got her name while volunteering on the trail. She was the fastest person to strip tree bark from the wood to make the planks that helped hikers get across the wetlands along the trail. Her name had started off as Tree Stripper but eventually came to be just Stripper. The shower was amazing! It was super clean, super hot, and fully stocked with all the wonderful naturally made herbal shampoos, conditioners, and soaps I could want. There was even a razor! Plus, when I got out, there was a whole closet filled with fresh clean clothes to borrow while all my things were in the wash.
I rejoined everyone in the common room and sat down in a real chair! It had a back cushion and everything and so I sank into it, allowing it to hold me like a hug. At that moment, I realized I did not want to go back into the forest that night. I asked how much it was to stay and found out it was by donation or I had the option to help out with a few chores like folding laundry and putting things away. I texted Kaile and she was totally fine with the idea.
While sitting there, I began to acknowledge my body again. I was literally in pain everywhere. And my feminine area alerted me with cramps that I might be getting my period a week early. And sure enough, I started bleeding. Before going on the birth control pill, I would often bleed whenever I was under high amounts of stress. It became such a problem that I needed to go on the pill to help regulate and since I had been on the pill, it was very rare that I bleed out of cycle. This was definitely a sign my body thought it was in a war zone. But I told myself I only had a few more days and that I would just have to deal with it.
We switched the clothes to the dryer. Since Chilli needed a new pot, Chilli and stripper wear on their way to the Walmart across the street to look for one. I asked if I could tag along and it worked out well since I needed a few things myself. When we came back out, we decided to explore the humongous farmers market taking place in the street between the Yellow Deli and Walmart. Rows and rows of tents held fresh vegetables, fruits, crafts, pottery, beef jerky and all kinds of different cultural ready to eat meals. There was even a musician playing his guitar with a cat sitting on the shoulder. It felt wonderful to be among all those people. A woman commented on my beautiful purple top and long flowy green skirt. I laughed, thanked her, and told her the clothes weren't mine but that I was hiking on the Long Trail and all my things are it being washed currently. That gave her a good laugh as well as the woman in the tent beside her who was listening in.
When we got back to the Yellow Deli, I noticed there was a juice bar two stores down. I was fortunate enough to get a custom blend of my favorites: carrot, beet, kale, and apple. Kaile arrived not long after and she was kind enough to take Chilli, Stripper and I to a few stores to look for a new pot. Afterward, we parked her car in the garage behind the Yellow Deli and carried in my resupply boxes. I went through everything in the common room and the now professional AT hikers had a fun time telling me what not to bring.
Later, Kaile and I walked over to the Hopping Moose bar and I finally got my extra large with extra everything Hawaiian pizza. I ate all but a few slices. Kaile couldn't help laugh at me as I told her to look away while I stuffed myself. She said she had never seen me eat so much. Which was completely true. Typically I could only eat maybe 2 or 3 slices by myself but at that moment I was truly hungry.
When we got back, everyone hung out on the buildings rooftop garden. There was a man named Tunes who had a hypnotic voice and played his guitar for us. Kaile joined in playing her crystal singing bowls that she always had on hand in her car. A woman from the 12 tribes group came up and give us all a small bowl of frozen cream with crushed berries and a warm ginger cookie. It was to die for!
Afterward, we all went in to go to bed. The women were separated from the men. There were 8 bunk beds, sleeping 16 in total and all but one were filled. It felt amazing to get into fresh clean sheets and lay my head on a real pillow. I was very grateful to Kaile for being alright with staying with me there for the night. She was truly the most supportive friend anyone could ask for.
The Minerva Hinchey shelter on Bear Mountain was not exactly the most desirable place to take my zero-day with all the mosquitoes and mice hopping in and out of the stone walls all around. I would have much preferred to take my zero-day by a lake or river, but this was what I got for not honoring my body sooner. I should have listened to my body when it first told me I needed a break, but I kept pushing and thus here I was injured in the middle of the thick forest.
At 8 a.m. I was starting to feel like bear bait laying there unable to walk around without limping. If a bear came, there would be absolutely nothing I could do about it. I wouldn't be able to fight back and I sure as hell wouldn't be able to run. I decided I'd make a small fire and I try to keep it going all day to keep them away. Bears hate fire and the smell of the smoke would keep them from wandering around the area. The smoke would also help with the problem of the mosquitoes.
I collected dry leaves and pine needles along with some small sticks as kindling and made a little teepee in the fire pit in front of my tent. I tried to light the leaves on fire to get it started but they quickly went out and burnt to embers. I kept trying and got absolutely nowhere. Eventually, when an AT hiker came through to refill his water, I walked up to him for help. I was more than embarrassed to ask, but I didn't want to spend the day feeling nervous so I sucked up my pride and headed over.
I had to say excuse me more than once to get his attention. I wasn't sure if he was hard of hearing or if he was just trying to ignore me. I stood there in my pink pajamas and said I had an embarrassing question to ask. When he didn't respond, I continued by asking if he knew how to make a fire. He asked, "Why? Do you just want one or do you actually need one?"
His voice was short and snobby and caught me off-guard completely. His eyes looked me up and down in complete judgment and it made me want to spit on him. Every one of my defenses went up instantly. I could feel myself rebuilding my wall of protection and telling myself, people are a*******. My mouth hung open and before I could even respond he continued, "because I don't want to waste my time if you just want one. I have a very big day ahead of me. And I'm trying to get a lot of miles in." He didn't even make eye contact when he talked. He just kept looking over his gear as he sat there on the edge of the shelter.
My eyebrows shot up. Was this guy for real!? "Nevermind. I'm just hurt and afraid of bears and didn't want to be stuck out here all day as bear bait so I figured I'd start a fire to keep them away. But obviously you're too busy and I wouldn't want to waste your time!" I turned angerly and began to limp away.
"Wait. Your hurt?" He asked dumbfounded. "Yeah, but don't worry about it. You have things to do." I said as I continued to walk away. "No. I'll be over there in a minute." He argued. At this point, I really did not want his help. I waved and said, "That's okay. I'm all set!"
I went back to the fire pit and angerly removed my pile of kindling and tried to start again. He walked over then with an exaggerated sigh as if he were some child being forced to do something by his mother. I wanted to tell him to f*** off. But I held my tongue and clenched my jaw to keep from saying anything. He informed me that the size of the kindling I had was too large to begin with. So he removed it all and built another kindling teepee using smaller twigs and leaves. The pompous jerk got it going within minutes. Once there was a steady flame, I reluctantly thanked him. He nodded, waved and walked away.
I limped around the small area and collected many large branches to try to keep the fire going. Luckily I found plenty of dry wood, but small dry wood burns fast. I couldn't go more than a few moments without having to add more to it. My desperation had me even collecting small dead trees. Because I didn't have an ax or anything big enough to break them, I stuck them in between two trees that were next to one another and pressing against my core, I'd walk in the opposite direction to snap them. That seemed to do the trick for a little while, but after 2 hours of nonstop feeding fire, my ankle was not happy and I needed to eat as well as use the bathroom.
After cooking on the open fire, which I later came to regret because I burnt my pot, I decided to let the fire go out. I couldn't even take a couple of bites without having to put more wood on and there was no way I'd be able to use the bathroom without it going out.
Using nature's bathroom took a little getting used to, but it was way better than attempting to use the disgusting, smelly, and dark privies. At least outside I could squat down and not be afraid of something biting my butt. The dark hole in the privies scared me so much that I couldn't even relax if I wanted to. I kept imagining a snake, spider, or mouse coming up the hole while I was in there. Outside there was space and plenty of light to see what we were around. Plus there were plenty of natural holes in dead trees that I could toss my waste into using a hobble leaf. It took me almost 4 days to finally go out there. I had freaked out because no one tells you that your body is under such stress and using everything it has that you can't go at first. I was so concerned, I wondered if I needed to get off the trail and go use a laxative. But me being me, I talked to a few people about it and everyone said it was completely normal.
In the afternoon I lied down and took a 2-hour nap. I didn't get up until 3pm when I was hungry again. By then, I was sick of being in my tent. I decided to wander over to the shelter to use the picnic table to write and cook some Raman. About an hour later, a woman named Dirt Devil and her boyfriend Oats came by. She got her name because she's always cleaning up the trash from the trail and he got his name because he loves to eat oatmeal. They met the first week they started hiking the AT and quickly fell in love. They'd been out there together a little over 3 months. I thought that was a pretty romantic way to start a relationship and a great test for it. Couples that hike the AT together either grow stronger or break up. It can be a tough thing to spend every single moment of every single day and night with the same person and sometimes not anyone else for months on end.
Not too long later, Iron Man and Sprinkles showed up. Iron Man was hiking the AT and Sprinkles had set out to solo hike the Long Trail but met Iron Man on one of her first days out and was able to keep up with him doing an average of 17 miles per day. We got to chatting and I found out Sprinkles lived not too far from me. The towns we grew up in were even close to one another. She told me she got her trail name because she loves sprinkled donuts and told me I needed to go to Providence Donuts when I got back. She also admitted she wasn't quite ready to be alone on the trail. She was happy to have teamed up with Iron Man, but the split of the AT and Long Trail was coming up and she was very nervous about it. The Long Trail and AT overlap for the first hundred and five miles, but after that, they go in different directions because the land that was originally given for the trails was only grandfathered for 300 years and the AT did not want to take the risk of the land not always being available. I shared some of my story with Sprinkles and told her that if I could do a solo hike, then she could do it too. We exchange numbers in hopes to possibly hike sometime in the future together.
Last night when I got to the Green Wall shelter, a guy named Eddy and another named Batman were camped out with a dog in a tent in the shelter. Like most, AT through hikers, they didn't bother to hang their bear bags. By this point on the trail, they've seen an average of 11 to 15 bears, most of which were in the Shenandoah's and New Jersey. Here in Vermont, for some reason, 90% of them just didn't care about the black bears and would sleep with their food bags in the shelter rather than properly hang them like every posted sign says to do. But in all fairness to these two, they had a point when it came to bears being easily scared by dogs. They offered for me to leave my bear bag with them so I wouldn't have to tie mine up. I accepted the offer uncomfortably and out of sheer exhaustion. I set up my tent a good distance away. If a bear came around, I wouldn't have to worry about it coming for me.
I still woke up at 5:20am even though I hadn't fallen asleep until nearly 11pm. I had stayed up writing and texting Len now that I finally had service. I also downloaded the GutHooks app that every person on the trail uses. Many of the AT hikers only use the app and no maps since you can use it in airplane mode. It has all the maps as well as lists store and services nearby, how many miles to the next shelter and water source, ect. I would no longer have to try to do math every day to figure out how far I needed to go before I got to places on the map.
My body felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. I didn't want to get up. I wanted to spend the day sleeping and not move ever again. In a lot of ways, I felt like my journey was complete. I had come out here to overcome fears, restore my faith in humanity and reconnect with God. I debated if I should just go home, but I still had another week time wise to go and something told me I still had a few more adventures/lessons to experience. Reluctantly I got up and packed up. I couldn't take a zero-day here since the water source was dried up. I was going to have to push myself the 5 miles up and over Bear Mountain to get to the next shelter.
About a half mile from the Green Wall shelter, I came to the cascades. A large beautiful waterfall followed by several other small falls replenished me and cooled me off. Being there made me feel grateful I had kept going. It was now Thursday, Day 7, and since Monday I had been trying to take a zero-day but something just kept coming up. But every time something came up, it pushed me forward and I got to see another beautiful place. And so I was grateful for the many not so subtle shoves.
Getting back on the trail and heading north along the river, the trail seemed to suddenly stop. That's when I noticed the AT hiker in the middle of the river sitting on a rock and eating a granola bar. The was a trail beside him. I waved and said hello as I passed by and tried to cross the river without slipping in front of him. I was successful, surprisingly, and as I began to walk I noticed my ankle was hurting. Each step the pain felt a little more intense and I wasn't exactly sure why. I knew I slipped on a rock last night but I didn't think much of it. So I sat down on a boulder to take a look. It was starting to swell up.
Just then the AT hiker I saw sitting on the river was about to pass by me. He stopped and gave me a strange look. I half smiled at him feeling a little embarrassed and knowing that he likely saw me sitting at the waterfall just a few feet beforehand and now here I was sitting again. I must have looked like such a loser. He asked, "do you mind if I give you a little advice?"
"No. Not at all," I replied. He took a step closer and said, "are you sure? I don't want to offend you." Now I understood the expression on his face. He was going to have a lot to say. I just hoped it would come out nicely. "No. I'm as green as they come and I've only been out here for 7 days. I could use all the advice you willing to give." I admitted.
"Well, first off, water weighs a ton." He said walking up to me and looking at my pack. From the outside I had my 2 L. hydration bladder hanging and my 1 and a half L. bottle filled. "I know." I agreed, "but that eight-mile stretch between Bromley in Peru really gave me an anxiety attack and I don't want to feel that again."
He nodded understanding. "All right, but this bag! It could really use some rearranging. Your weight is not evenly distributed and your water is hanging off the back and sliding all over the place." He started to reach for my pack and stopped himself and then asked if I mind. I said not at all and he asked if we could just take everything off and out so we can go through it. I could feel my cheeks starting to get pink with embarrassment but I nodded, grateful for the help. The only thing I had done right was put my sleeping bag at the bottom of the bag and all my rain gear in my outside pocket for quick and easy access. Other than that, we did a total rearrangement.
He taught me that I want my lightest items on the top and bottom and my heavy stuff in the middle of my back. He separated my tent poles from the tent itself and placed the poles beside my sleeping bag, standing up along the back left corner. Inside my pack was a clip with a looped strap I hadn't noticed before. That's apparently used to hang my hydration bladder from. Then he placed my tent on top of my sleeping bag along with my food bag, then my extra clothes and oven went on top. He also had me pull out the lunch and snacks I planned to eat that day and placed them in my outside pocket so when I wanted to eat I wouldn't have to go digging through my bag to get them.
Once everything was back in my bag he had me try it on. I was so astounded by the difference it made, I hugged him without much notice. He laughed and said, "well hold on. We're not quite done yet. We still need to fix these straps."
He pulled and yanked in every direction while making what I'd come to realize was his disapproval/disappointed face. "No. This isn't right." He said as he worked. "The shoulder straps and hip straps are supposed to be weighing on you evenly. You're not supposed to be caring all this weight on just your hips. It should be distributed between the both of them." He stepped back and shook his head while staring down at my pack like it was a misbehaved child. "Do you mind just taking it off again?" He asked looking as if he wanted to give up.
"No," I said quickly undoing myself and slipping the pack back to the ground. He gave the bag hell. It looked like he was having a strange wrestling match with it as he turned it back and forth and looked between the frame and the bag itself. "I can't believe this bag doesn't adjust any further!" He complained in frustration. "This bag doesn't fit you! Where did you get it!?" He demanded finally looking back at me. I was happy to be back in the conversation.
"REI," I said quickly. "Good. Whoever sized you was a moron. Your an extra small not a small. Tell them and they'll ship one out right away to your next pick up spot." I nodded, not wanting to admit I was too afraid to go into town. I'd just deal with it for the one more week and exchange it for the right size when I got home.
"Alright, one more time." He said lifting it up so I could put the pack back on. He tugged some more and did the best he could to get it as even as possible. I thanked him for his time and shook his hand. "Alright, good luck." He said and started to walk away. I stopped him and asked his name. It was "Just Tim" as he didn't care for the whole idea of a trail name. He asked mine and I said, "Faith because I'm out here to try to restore my faith in humanity." That made him smile. He nodded his head. I'd like to think it was because he was acknowledging the spirit that initially called him to stop and help me.
As the day carried on, my phone went in and out of service. I passed the older couple I meant the day before on the lake and crossed another road. As I started the gentle switchback climb up Bear Mountain my ankle was beginning to really hurt. At the "Vista" I dropped my pack, took off my shoes and socks and reexamined my ankle. It was not happy with me for continuing to hike on it, but I tried not to think about it too much as I was tired and likely feeling like it was worse than it actually was.
After lunch, I started to take it slower. I only had a few miles to go and I figured if I didn't over push myself I'd be fine. But I began to realize how not fine I was. With each step, my ankle sent me a shock of pain, begging me to stop. I leaned against a tree and saw that I had service. I sent Len a message letting him know that I was in pain and may not be able to make the second week out here. Fortunately, he was able to text me back and gave me the exact words of encouragement I needed to hear. And of course, he told me he loved me. He also told me that I didn't need to make the decision right at that moment. But after some rest, I could reevaluate and let him know. I thought that was a good plan. So I continued on towards the Minerva Hinchey shelter.
The Guthooks app said I'd likely not have cell phone service when I got there. And as I walked, I began feeling like I was going to either cry or scream out in pain. I ground my teeth and made fists with my hands. I kept telling myself I was almost there. But the closer I got and the more pain I felt, the more I began to panic. If I wanted to go home, I wouldn't be able to call for help and I would have to do another climb before I reached a road. Just as I was ready to give up and call it quits, I no longer had cell service. Eventually, a SOBO (southbound) AT hiker came by and asked me if I was okay. I wanted to say, "yeah I'm fine," but instead I just began to cry.
And of course, the guy came completely undone by seeing this, flung off his pack and came right over to me. I ended up giving him Len's info so he could give him a call when he had service and tell him that I needed to be picked up. After the hiker left. I had a good cry. I felt utterly defeated, exhausted and humiliated. I knew I got everything I wanted out of this trip but I had also planned to be out her two weeks, not one! And I didn't want this to be the way my story ended.
I wasn't sure if it was my pride that was keeping me but at that moment I regretted not listening to my body and taking a break when I should have back at Little Rock Pond. And now here I was in the middle of the forest injured with the closets road miles away. I could hear the words of judgment in my head telling me, "I knew she wouldn't last two weeks." It made me angry and that's when I stopped crying. I pushed forward determined to make it to the shelter. And as soon as I got service, I reached out to Len and my friend Kaile who had been following by trail in case Len could not get to me and she was planning to resupply me on Saturday, two days away. Talking to her helped me feel stronger and I decided I wasn't quite ready to give up just yet.
I woke up to the sound of the rushing river beside me and looked outside my screen door to the river. It was 5:20 am. I had been waking up at that same exact time every day just about. It must have been because that's when the birds started to sing and the sun began to break through the trees. River and Puddles planned to do a 17-mile hike that day and so I told them I'd help wake them up since they had become accustomed to being able to sleep in out here.
I climbed out of my tent and walked by their's quietly saying "good morning, good morning" and to my surprise, they responded. The night before, River had shown me a trick she learned from an 18-year-old MIT student of how to hang multiple bear bags using one line. I can't even begin to try to describe it in words but I made a video in order to remember the steps. Hanging our bags together last night worked out well since my rock bag had smashed the night before. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to deal with that in the upcoming nights just yet.
We got to chatting about food while eating breakfast and I learned that the average hiker only carried about 3 to 4 days of food at a time. Then they go into town to resupply as well as potentially take a shower, charge their phones, contacts loved ones, and potentially stay at a hostel or a hotel. A shower sounded pretty good right about now. They said I was crazy for carrying ten days of food but I admitted I was too scared to try to hitchhike alone or even go into town. People scared me.
I had also told them that I originally planned on eating nothing but beef jerky and granola for lunch every day. They laughed and said that's not going to work. I laughed too and said, "no, it didn't." By day 4 the beef jerky turned my stomach every time I opened the seal and the fumes wafting from the bag made me feel like I was a walking ideal piece of bear bait. I admitted to them how I debated tossing all of the meat into the woods for some animal to enjoy but then realized I wasn't sure how far the next town was, and so I decided that I would try to trade it with someone that day, or it was ending up in the woods. Luckily yesterday, while I was washing my clothes in the river, the college group I had met my first night out there passed by and I stopped them. TA, the only girl in their group, was willing and kind enough to trade out my remaining one pound of jerky for protein bars. I hadn't even thought about the importance of trading protein for protein but she had and I was grateful to her for being honest about it.
Puddles and River told me they had planned and made a ton of dehydrated freezer bag meals to mail to themselves to have over the trip. For the most part that was working out, but there were a few items they were sick of that they wish they hadn't packed so many of. Pubbles had also quickly come to dislike the taste of dehydrated eggs, but River gladly took them off her hands. River was also kind enough to offer some of her food to me but I declined. I had enough and she needed the good stuff since she was hiking a significant number of miles each day.
I wanted to take a zero-day badly since I was absolutely mentally and physically exhausted but there was a group of college boys that had set up camp just across the river and they had definitely driven in from somewhere because they were fully equipped with all the camping luxurious a person could want including a pop up screen room, tarps, lanterns and folding chairs. Drinking, obnoxious talk, and swimming nearby was also happening so I decided it wasn't the best place for a young girl all alone in the woods to spend the day.
I hiked the short 3 miles or so over to Little Rock Pond. When I got there around noon, a boys summer camp group were just packing up and leaving. The shelter was impressive like the one at Bromley. It had an enclosed picnic table area as well as a platform for sleeping. I signed the log book and gave a female hiker my information to contact Len since I yet again had no service and she'd likely get some before me.
I found a nice tent platform by the shelter and decided to set up early. This would be a perfect spot to take the rest of the day off and finally relax. Using my trekking poles, I tied a clothesline with the rope from my rain fly to hang my still damp clothes to dry in the only sunny spot I could find. All the land surrounding the pond had a dense canopy of green leaves letting very little light through. Sunblock and my hat were two items I could have ditched on this journey.
After setting up, I went down to the water with my cooking gear to make lunch. I was so tired and my feet were starting to really hate me. A part of me really just wanted to crawl into my tent and take a nap. But I told myself I needed to eat, and so I sat looking out to the water while I boiled some water to make Raman noodles, something I would never eat back home. I never cooked lunch before since it takes time and effort to pull everything out. Once the water was boiling, I turned the burner off, dumped my noodles in, and quickly placed the lid on and wrapped the pot up with two bandanas to let my noodles finish cooking inside. As the cool wind blew I was very happy to hold my hot pot. I had wanted to go swimming but rumor had it that another afternoon storm may be passing through and if the temp dropped any more, I didn't want to be wet and cold.
I unwrapped my Raman pot and happily ate the hot noodles and drank the salty chicken broth. It tasted like the best soup I had ever tried. With each bite, I began to realize I had been starving. By the time I finished the pot, my headache had subsided and I felt full of energy again. At that moment I realized why so many hikers praise Raman. It is warm, heavy/filling, has lots of carbs (sugars that break down slowly to give long-lasting energy) and lots of salt to help restore electrolytes to help keep you hydrated. I decided from then on, I was taking the time to cook my lunches.
After eating I was incredibly restored and although people were stopping by and chatting with me, I felt this strong desire to get moving again. I quickly packed up and started towards the Green Wall shelter 5 miles and one mountain climb away around 4:30pm. Sunset wasn't until 8:20pm. I had hoped that would be enough time to get there.
The first part of the trail was calm but as I began to climb, my anxiety decided to pay me a visit. What was I doing? My safety rule was to always stop hiking between 5 and 6pm in order to make sure I'd have plenty of time to set up camp, eat, and tie my bear bag before dark and now here I was hiking up another mountain! I started praying to God to help push me forward and upward. I prayed that I wouldn't be still out here when darkness fell. Finally, I got cell service. I should have texted Len to let him know what I was up to but with the one bar of signal I had, I used it to reach out to my women's church group and ask for the support of their prayers to help get me to the shelter before night. Essentially I was asking for a miracle.
As the forest grew darker and my body weaker I prayed more and more. Sweat dripped from me like tears all along my arms and face. Every noise had me jumping and panicking. I stopped to lean my pack against a tree, closed my eyes, folded my hands and prayed, "God, if you are with me let me feel you. Even if I have to spend the night in the forest, let me know you are with me and that I am not alone. Please protect me." Opening my eyes, I got the idea to play the only music I happened to have downloaded to my phone, Christian rock. I blasted the speaker in hopes it would scare off any animals nearby and that the beat would help motivate me to move faster.
When I reached the top of the mountain, the sun was shining through the tall pines. I looked at my phone, somehow it had only been an hour and I had hiked 3 miles! Usually, it took me one hour per mile when climbing uphill. I was suddenly filled with hope. My heart pounded. This was impossible! How? My only explanation was that God had pushed me. That's when I started to feel it. The sense of peace and not being all alone. Was this what people meant when they said were filled with the holy spirit? I slowed my pace and looked up from my feet to the forest that surrounded me. Each tree stood like a pillar, bare leaf covered branches, allowing me to see clearly out passed them to the mountain range across from this ridge. A carpet of green moss cover the earth and an umbrella of green blocked the sky. I had never seen a forest like this before.
With this new sense of peace, I felt like I was floating over each rock and root down the path. That's when I saw and felt God. Before me stood dozens of white sparkling stones piled on top of one another across a flat pine carpet roughly 50 to 100 square feet. Each stone, tree, branch, and leaf seemed to emanate with a life force vibration. It was as if God was the earth and the earth was God. His/her presence was the air and forest all around me as well as inside of me. The divine was everywhere. It was like looking at a grill and seeing the gas cause wavy lines in the air. Everything had a vibration.
Eventually, I moved on, feeling grateful for my experience at White Rocks. I couldn't help smiling as I walked and thinking tonight was the night I needed to see God's sunset. I knew there was a lookout somewhere nearby, but I was having trouble figuring out which path led to it and I only had a little while left to figure it out. When I got to an intersection, the sign read .3 miles to the Green Wall shelter one way and 1 mile to White Rocks the other way. The third way led down to a road. Fortunately, I man running with his dog came by and I asked if he knew if people camped out over by the lookout. He said not usually and asked why. I told him I really wanted to see the sunset, but was afraid to walk on all these slippery rocks after dark to try and get back to the shelter. He offered to meet me at the lookout once he was finished running with his dog and walk me down to the shelter. I graciously accepted the offer.
Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn. I thought I was heading in the direction of the lookout but when I came across two 16-year-old girls day hiking, I found out I had been wrong, and needed to turn around and hike/climb back up the 2 miles I had just descended. The girls were kind enough to let me walk with them since they were heading that way anyway.
I watched the sunset with the two girls, the man with his dog, and a husband and wife who also hiked up just to watch it set. The colors were beautiful. The girls took a million pictures and I made a video. The man rolled a joint. He seemed kind enough, but I couldn't help but feel a little nervous about the idea of him. He was wearing only a pair of black spandex shorts and a hydration water backpack. His hair was a crazy mess of curls and his eyes didn't quite focus on anything very long.
As we walked back to the intersection, the others headed down the hill towards the parking lot and the gentleman and I continued onward in the dark towards the shelter. At first, I tried to use the red setting on my headlamp but with all the slick rocks I decided to turn the bright white light on. I was struggling to keep up with him but tried my best. My foot slipped from one of the rocks and I felt my ankle twist slightly. He turned to ask if I was okay and I said yes. That's when he slowed down and pulled his pack off in front of him. As he dug through the contents of his bag I began to panic. What was he looking for? A gun maybe? If he tried to attack me right now there would be almost nothing I could do about it. Then he clicked on a light and placed on his headlamp. My heart slowed and I was instantly filled with guilt. Here was this sweet guy walking me to a shelter in the pitch black forest, and here I was thinking he was some kind of terror. Way to go Faith.
Today was a roller coaster of emotions. I woke up from a nightmare and heard footsteps outside my tent. At first, I thought maybe it was part of the dream but then I heard a few more quiet ones and I decided it was likely a squirrel. But it sounded a little heavy as it continued and so I told myself it was just Bambi outside. I sat up and started looking over my map, trying to decide if I was going to stay put or push forward to Big Branch shelter 6 miles away.
I decided to go for it since the hike looked much flatter with some downhills than the grueling climbs of yesterday when suddenly I heard a large branch beside my tent snap. My head shot up and I acknowledgment the sound knowing that a squirrel or even Bambi wasn't heavy enough to break a branch like that. I started to get very nervous and my heart dropped when I the heavy sniffing sound of an animal circling my tent. My heart was pounding and with trembling hands, I took out my mace as quietly and quietly as I could and unlocked the safety. I didn't know if I should make a noise or if I should stay silent.
I was told if you see a bear to make as much noise as possible and to yell and clap your hands. But I was inside two layers of a tent. A tent which had both doors in unpleasant and uneasy exit points. I closed my eyes and silently played to God to keep me safe. I started the video camera as I held the mace in my other hand. I figured if it was going to attack, I might as well catch it on camera. And if I was going to die at least my family would know what had happened. I listened as the animal sniffed and press gently against the front part of my tent, then walked up and around the hill to get to the backside of my tent. It repeated this motion a few times and then it was gone. I heard it walk away and my heart began to slow.
I waited in my tent probably more than an hour to make sure it had really left. And eventually, I got brave enough to open the screen door and then the rain fly door to poke my head out. When I stood, I looked around all directions but saw nothing. I walked up the small hill and look down the pathways and still saw nothing. That feeling of terror pretty much finalized my decision for me. There was no way I was staying in this isolated spot another day or night alone.
I quickly retrieved my bear bag, opened it up to get my morning wash-up supplies and made breakfast. The moment I finished eating, I stuck everything back in the bag and sealed it up tight. I had planned to wash up in the water but as soon as I started to step in, I noticed how silky and warm it felt. A swim would have felt nice but it would have left me still feeling unclean. I decided since I wanted to get out of there anyways that I'd skip the swim and wait until I got to a river.
As predicted, the hike was calm and steady. I spent most of the day alone and surprise to be so alone. Over the weekend I had met quite a few people passing by. At least one person every half hour or so. But now it was Tuesday, the middle part of the week, and I was completely isolated. The trees hung over the path like a green tunnel. The sky was only visible between leaves and even though the trees were tall, I couldn't help but feel a little claustrophobic. I was becoming nervous by the middle of the afternoon. A part of me wondered if I'd gone off the main trail, but I knew that couldn't be since I was still seeing the clearly marked white blazers along the trail.
I was hypersensitive to every little noise. I wondered if a bear or worse, a mountain lion, was stalking me. My eyes stared into the forest and I began the trip on small rocks and branches because I wasn't paying attention to the Earth in front of my feet but rather every shadow or swaying branch in the wind. I called out "hello?" to the dense woodland but no one responded. Finally, I decided to take a rest on a moss-covered rock. I leaned my pack against it to take the weight off my shoulders and hips before unclipping from the multiple straps. Pulling out my phone I saw yet again, I had no service. I wanted to call Len and hear his voice. I wanted words of encouragement because, at that moment, I was feeling very weak.
And then I remembered my little voice recorder. Len had made me recordings before I left. One was of my favorite Psalm. Psalm 91. I played that first and then listened to the first recording he made on his own. He spoke the exact words of encouragement I needed to hear. And he told me he loved me. Just hearing his voice and remembering that God was with me gave me all I needed to keep going. I slung my pack back on and headed down to Big Branch shelter.
A very long and high suspension bridge finished my day's travel crossing over the river to the shelter. I took a ton of pictures and videos as I had never actually crossed a bridge like that before. I couldn't help thinking of my best friend at that moment. She loved nature but had a terrible fear of heights. And that thought led me to remember how I couldn't wait to connect with people again.
I was disappointed to see there was no one at the shelter. I would have thought someone might be there taking a break or calling it early for the day like me. But it was completely empty. So I began looking to see if there were any flat spots the set up my tent. But didn't see any close by. So I walked a little farther down the path and look down at the rushing river. There, off to the side, was a perfect little clearing big enough for two tents but only one spot was flat. I slid down the hill on my butt with my pack and caught every tree on my way to slow myself down. I was filthy but I didn't care. I quickly set up my tent and pulled out my sweaty extra shirt and took off my sweaty clothes, leaving only my sports bra and shorts on and went straight into the river.
The rushing water was freezing! But it was crystal clear and super clean. It felt amazing to get the mud, dirt, and sweat off my body. After a few good moments of swimming around in one of the naturally made pools, I rinsed out all my clothing, including all my pajama pants that had begun to look like I had a bathroom accident from sitting on so many dirty spots.
It was so good to see some sky cut out from the large river. I didn't feel so claustrophobic now. The sun beat down on the riverbed and all along the bank. I laid out all my clothes on big boulders and placed smaller rocks on top to keep them from blowing away in the wind. I also laid myself out on a boulder to dry out, fanning my new short curly hair behind me to catch some sun as well. I was grateful I had cut two feet off my hair before leaving. My hair had been my signature and made me feel very feminine, but I finally realized the reason I felt that way was because that's what people told me. Two weeks before leaving for the trip, I decided to cut it off and I've been very happy I have. I used to trip on it and get it caught in things all the time. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been on this adventure.
A loud rumbling came from above and I open my eyes to see a large black cloud moving swiftly towards the river. My eyes widened as I realized the sound was not a plane but thunder! Still a little wet, I ran as fast as I could over the stones to collect my clothing and back over to my tent. I threw everything inside as quickly as I could. And then I grabbed my bear bag and rope.
I ran out to the river and down to a tree leaning over the rushing water. Connecting my little rock bag to the rope, I threw it as hard as I could up into the darkening sky. The rock bag went sailing and landed in the river. I pulled it in the way a fly fisherman rails up his line and tried again, and again. On my third or fourth try, the rock bag fell and smashed open on a boulder. "What am I supposed to do now!?" I cried out to do the river. Without a rock bag, I had no idea how I'd manage to get my rope up and over and back down to me to be able to tie the bear bag.
The drumming of thunder began to increase in-rhythm and volume. I flinched with each bang. I didn't want to be standing out in the middle of the open river on top of a boulder when the lightning and the rains came. My eyes darted around and I debated just flinging my bag across the river and hoping for the best. At least it would be away from me, but then I'd be without food and toiletries and I wasn't sure how far the next town was to resupply. Thunder boomed again and I felt rushed to make a decision. I looked down at my feet and saw a large rectangular shaped rock. I told myself this is either brilliant or one of the most stupid things I could try to do.
Unlatching the small rock bag for my rope, I began to tie the rope around the rock. I climbed up to the tallest boulder closets to the tree I could find, whisper a prayer under my breath, and through the rock with all my strength up into the now black sky. And by some miracle, the rock glided just over the tree branch and came flying back down towards my head. I ducked just in time and waited for the rock to crash behind me before untying the rope and reattaching it to my bear bag.
I pulled with all my strength to get the bag up, but the cord was thin and began to slice into my hands. I didn't know what to do at first but quickly I reached out for the same rock I had just untied and again wrapping it around the cord. I used the rock as a lever and walked back on bare feet over the river bank stones until the bag was high up in the tree. Then I grabbed a 6-inch long by about 1-inch thick branch and tied a quick clove hitch notch before letting go of the rope and letting the bear bag catch on the branch to dangle in midair. There was no way a bear would be able to get it now that it was at least 12-feet off the ground and 3-feet down from the branch, as well as nowhere near the trunk of the tree. I had essentially mastered the PCT method of bear bag tying under extreme pressure.
Despite the pain, my hiker feet being pounded into the sharp rocks with every running step. I made it back to my tent and closed the rain fly. I began stuffing everything into my pack and once that was done, I heard the howl of the winds. I felt as if I was sitting in a train tunnel surrounded by screaming ghosts. I was yet again drenched in sweat with my heart pounding. Once everything was in the bag, I began to debate if I should really be where I was. My tent was seated at the edge of the river and at the base of a dirt hill. If the rains came heavy, I could get washed into the river. I popped back out of the tent quickly and collected river stones to put around the base of my rain fly to help redirect the water that would come down the hill and move around my tent. But as I got back inside and listened and felt and saw the fabric of my tent moving in the pressure of the wind everything in my body screamed to get moving.
I jumped back out of my tent, kicked the rocks aside, stripped the rain fly down, popped the poles out and stuffed them into my pack without any order. Then I bear-hugged gathered the fabrics of my tent in one arm and with my other free arm began to pull myself up the hillside and dashed down the short path to the shelter as the storm came overhead.
Each drum was so penetrating it rumbled the shelter walls and caused me to duck down. I knew I wasn't supposed to set up my tent in the shelter, but being all alone and not wanting the rains to come in once they started I decided I didn't care. With shaky hands, I began to put each pole back in its place and began to pray to God that I wouldn't spend the night alone in the storm and in this shelter. I prayed out loud but the thunder was louder and so I decided to sing the few lines I knew of Amazing Grace at the top of my lungs.
I felt like I was playing a game with the devil of who could sing the loudest. I didn't want to cry although I felt like I was on the verge of it. I kept repeating over and over in my head, "please God don't let me spend this night alone." And just as I was about to set the last pole into place, I heard a voice from behind me say, "hey! No tents in the shelter!" I turned, jumped and screamed all at the same time. A tall woman jumped back, laughed and apologized for scaring me. Just as she got in, the sky opened up and a flash flood of rain came pouring down mixed with pee size hail that bounced off the wooden edge of the shelter. The wind and thunder carried on and we had to step back to the wall so the rain and hail wouldn't get us.
The woman was an AT through hiker and her trail name was Puddles. She was kind enough to share the story of how she got her name. And I'm going to repay her that same courtesy but not sharing the story. But Puddles used to be afraid of storms and got stuck out twice in them while hiking. She's been traveling with a companion called River. And although they hiked solo during the day, they met up each night at a pre-planned spot to camp together. She invited me to come camp with them and a graciously accepted.
We waited for the storm to pass, which it did quickly, before retrieving my bear bag. The narrow path from the shelter to the tenting area had a straight drop down to the river on the left side and to the right a direct uphill. As we were walking we heard a disturbing ear-splitting crack of trees breaking and crashing into one another. I screamed, "Run!" as I looked back to see the devil playing a vicious game of dominos with the line of trees behind us falling in our direction.
Today was beyond physically and emotionally challenging, but let's start at the beginning...
I woke up around 3:30 am yet again because I had to pee but didn't want to get up and go outside my tent in the dark. And then I started thinking about how all those people kept passing the shelter last night because they wanted to see the sunset from the top of Bromley mountain. I looked outside and the moonlight was strong. I was only 2 miles from the peak. I decided I needed to face my fears of the forest in the dark at and head on.
It took me until 5 am to change, pack up camp, and get my beer bag down, but then I quickly and strongly started pushing myself up the mountain, praying for the strength every step of the way. Although I avoided stopping, I could see the sky becoming lighter and brighter and so I pushed myself even harder. Luckily, there was a "Vista" sign and I took it to an open rock face that looked out to a beautiful mountain range. From there I was fortunate enough to see the last of the sunrise. The mountains looked blue and the sky was a variation of pinks and yellows.
I made my way to the opening of what would typically be the ski slope in winter and picked a breakfast full of red clover flowers and mini wild strawberries. Medicinally, red clover flower heads are cooling to the body and hormonally balancing. Women dealing with hot flashes typically use them in a tea. When I reach the Wildflower Meadow at the peak my breath quickened all over again with excitement. There was a 360-degree on look to the mountains layered by more mountains all around. Being exposed to the wind that early in the morning, I was very grateful for my new blue sweater. I hiked in it until about 7: 30 am. Then I remember to switch out my socks and ironically I ran into the military man that had told me to change my socks every 3 hours the night before. He said by changing my socks every 3 hours or so, it would help prevent me from getting trench foot and blisters. I was very grateful for the tip. He also showed me the pictures of the sunset from last night. The colors were a phenomenal array of deep reds and oranges. I was sad to have missed it and made a note to myself that I would do my best to see a sunset from the next beautiful mountaintop that had an outlook.
As the day went on I found myself becoming more and more anxious about the eight miles I had to complete all in one day since there was no water between the Bromley shelter and the Peru shelter. The task was daunting with the three mountain peaks to climb up and down. Every time I thought I was almost there, only a few more hours, there would be so much more to go. I was slowing down significantly and sweating profusely.
At one point, an AT through hiker asked if we could walk together for a while. I laughed and told him I was moving real slow but if he didn't mind I'd be happy to walk with him. He was an older gentleman, probably in his 70's with a large white beard that had red tips. His trail name was Fox because of it. He was very friendly and we talked about the shelters and the people we've met along the way. I told him about facing my fear of the dark so I wouldn't be afraid to pee at night. He said that was a very good thing because I wouldn't want to get a UTI out here from not peeing. I hadn't even thought of that!
When my 2L hydration bladder was empty and my water bottle only had about 2 inches left of water, I started sucking on Lifesaver candies to keep moisture in my mouth and to avoid wanting to over drink. I kept praying for the strength and drive to keep going and telling myself not to worry because God will provide. I needed to focus on moving forward.
About 2 miles from the Peru shelter I finally hit a miniature stream flowing out of the path. Evidence that the Anna's had been there was clear by the use of a hobblebush leaf stuck between two rocks making a spout for the water. They had shown me the trick last night and I was grateful to know it as it made filling up my bottle very quick and easy.
Taking off my pack as fast as I could to get to the water, my Fitbit watch caught on my pack strap and broke into three pieces. The scraps of it flew and landed in the water. But I could care less. At that moment all I cared about was refilling my water and cooling down. Once I had something to drink, I collected the pieces and stuck them in my pocket. Then I took my bandana and soaked it in the cool water and wrapped it around my neck. I took my time with those last two miles down to Griffin Lake. And I thanked God as I walked for the water. It took me quite a while to finish those last couple of miles since I was so exhausted and had been hiking since 5 am and it was now about 6 pm.
When I finally reached Griffin Lake, just passed the Peru shelter, my anxiety had subsided but its toll had wrecked havoc on my body. I had no energy left in me and didn't know how I was going to continue like this for 2 weeks. But people kept reassuring me that there was more water ahead and that would be the longest stretch I'd have to go. I decided the next day would be a zero-day, meaning a day without miles. And I thought a lake would be a beautiful setting for my day off. I imagined swimming, relaxing and writing by the water.
With this plan in mind, I walked past the shelter and designated tenting area and around to the opposite side of the lake. I found a small clearing to the water with a flat spot of Earth just big enough to fit my tent. It wasn't ideal in the sense that one door was blocked by a small hill and the other had a short drop off the ledge to the water framed by two pine trees. But that didn't bother me. I could open the door and hop jump to the front of my tent when I needed to get in and out.
As I walked around the area, I couldn't find any service. Eventually, I walked back to the designated tenting area and asked a woman I saw hiking with her dog earlier if once she got service if she wouldn't mind contacting Len for me to let him know I made it to Griffin Lake and that I'd likely be taking a zero-day tomorrow. That's when she also informed me that there was a chance of an afternoon storm tomorrow but rumor had it that it was looking like it might pass by. I thanked her and headed back to my tent.
After cooking dinner, washing up, and hanging my bear bag way more than 200 feet away from my tent, I settled in and left the rain fly folded back so I could look out the screen to the water while writing this entry. My body was aching and my feet throbbed in pain. Since I was on a slight incline I decided to lay with my legs uphill to decrease the blood flow to my ankles and feet as well as take some of the pressure off my heart. I was slippery in and out of consciousness when I decided to close the rain fly and get into my sleeping bag. It was only 8pm but I was utterly exhausted and I couldn't bear to be awake any longer.
Unfortunately, what I was about to wake up to the next morning would end my pleasant dreams for the rest of the trip.
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.