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.
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.