Day 108: Moose Mountain Shelter

Day 108. See ya later Vermont, and nice to meet you New Hampshire. Fortunately, the start of NH is the same nice terrain as VT, so I’m not too upset for the change. Soft trails, switchbacks, and some great views in this first day. Not to mention, I’m closing in on 400 miles to Katahdin, and I can’t believe how fast the miles and states are rolling by now. Just a few more weeks and this long journey is done. I still have a ways to go, but New Hampshire … wow, it feels like I’m nearing the finishing line.

I was a bit bewildered when I woke up this morning. Wha? Where am I? What’s that a funky smell, that isn’t me for once? Ah yes, the Blue Barn. I did sleep well, though only after I decided to lay my underquilt below me like a sheet to appease my fear of bed bugs … or worse. And even with that layer of permethrin soaked protection, I still jumped off the dirty mattress as soon as I woke. Let’s just say, I graciously appreciated Linda the Trail Angel’s hospitality, but I won’t be adding this to the list of places to return to.

I cooked breakfast, filled my water bottles, and headed out of town. Today’s hike was great, though during the 20 miles, I walked about 15% of it on town roads. Three towns actually, as the trail goes through West Hartford, Norwich and Hanover in this stretch. The first had nothing of interest, just houses and roads along the river, but the other two were big towns.

Norwich and Hanover lay on opposing ends of the Connecticut River, which acts as the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. Norwich has a few hiker friendly amenities (brewery, general store, post office, etc.), but Hanover is the real score. Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, and therefore is a huge college town. And the AT walks right down Main Street, through campus.

Hanover has everything you could ever want and more. Restaurants, grocery, bars, outfitter, pharmacy, bakeries, hotels, movie theater, you name it. Heck, I even walked by a J. Crew and North Face store. And it’s extremely hiker friendly. The guidebook recommends you to first stop at the Dartmouth Outdoor Club, a campus building that hosts all the outdoor activity student groups, where you can leave your pack while you tour town. However, it is unguarded, and at risk while there. I subscribe to the “never leave your pack unattended” theory, so checked out the building and then walked on.

Also, did I mention that it was PACKED on campus? Apparently this is reunion weekend, and the town is overflowing with alumni. I could barely walk down the street, it was so congested. And I felt bad, because they all looked so clean and well dressed … but were forced to walk next to the garbage can of a man that I look and smell like. However, everyone was very nice. I was asked about my trip a few times, and even offered a free donut and pizza slice just for being a thruhiker (I eagerly accepted both). I reveled in the town a bit, but knew I did not belong today, and exited just as quickly as I entered. Thanks Dartmouth, but I have mountains to climb.

The next 10 miles of trail appear to be maintained by the Dartmouth Outdoor Club, as their bright orange signs helped direct passage for me the rest of the day. I am sure the hiking here is very popular, so the signs help maneuver around the many crisscrossing dayhikes to take. I’m happy to say I did not go the wrong direction today! My favorite sign was at the end for Moose Mountain Shelter. It even had a nice drawing of a moose and a map of the shelter amenities. Nicely done Dartmouth, nicely done.

Tomorrow is another short day, only 18 miles or so with some great views to sit and enjoy. I chatted with two Southbound section hikers today that raved about everything they saw today coming in from the North. Holts Ledge, Smarts Mountain and others. With the nice weather expected, it should be a good day. The view from Moose Mountain today wasn’t too shabby either though (photo above).

Reflective note … I’m not ready for this trip to end, but I’m definitely counting the miles left instead of the miles walked. It’s not because I want this experience to be over, but I believe I am ready to complete it all the same. I find myself looking forward to the end of the day’s hike a bit more than the act of hiking lately, a subtle but important change. I guess life has been on hold for a long time now, and there are things post-AT I’m looking forward to that are just around the corner. Lately, at night, I spend time thinking about that more.

In that vein, this week will be a nice “stop and smell the roses” section. I have some tough climbs ahead of me for sure, before I even get to the Whites, but I’ve also reduced my daily miles average to under 20 a day. This way, I’m sure to get to Franconia Notch on Thursday, and I can get off trail right before the Whites for the wedding in Pennsylvania as planned. It will be a nice break, and I’m looking forward to spending time with my wife and our friends.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1738.9
  • Start Time: 06:45
  • End Mile: 1759.7
  • End Time: 16:20
  • Miles Hiked: 20.8
  • Miles to Go: 431.2
  • Lodging: Moose Mountain Shelter

Day 107: West Hartford, VT

Day 107. Today was my last full day in Vermont, and this beautiful state decided to make it a memorable one. I’m going to miss the Green Mountains and their soft needle-laden paths. And to be honest, the mud everyone complains about did not really cause me much trouble this past week. As the bench above instructs, I did enjoy it! But around noon tomorrow, I’ll pass in to New Hampshire, the town of Hanover (Dartmouth College), and my 13 state of this voyage.

So, what was so special about today? There were some ups and downs (pun intended), and it started with an excruciatingly frustrating down. The rain wasn’t so bad last night, but it continued through the morning. About an hour into the day’s wet hike, I arrived at the Wintturi Shelter for a quick rest and to shed a layer. Even though it was cold and rainy, I was sweating through my fleece sweater and wanted to pack it away at least partially dry.

And then, I did the unthinkable. I did the ultimate thruhiker faux-pas. Coming out of the shelter, I went the wrong way.

I’m sure most thruhikers have done this, in fact you’ll probably meet a hiker or 2 named “Wrong Way” each year for this exact reason. But my mistake wasn’t some cute little slip up, corrected quickly and hiked about afterwards among new friends. No, I went the wrong way FOR 2.6 MILES! Ugh, I was so focused on watching my feet and staying dry, that I accidentally went south on the AT from the shelter side trail. It wasn’t until I reached a familiar looking trail sign about a half mile from the Lookout Cabin that I fully looked up and realized what I’d done. 2.6 miles wasted … or “negative miles”, as we lovingly call it in the thruhiker community. It was at this moment that every person and animal in a 10 mile radius heard me scream.

Damn was I mad. Of course, there was no one to be mad at but myself, but I screamed multiple obscenities at the trail gods regardless. Correcting my error meant redoing those 2.6 miles again … and the entire 5.2 mile round trip wasted 2 good hours of daylight. That is what upset me most of all. Now my breezy 23 mile day plan was a near-impossible 28 miles that would yet again go late into the night.

I decided the best remedy for my attitude was to stop shorter at West Hartford, now 17 miles away, and to take advantage of the two farm stands along the way for food pick-me-ups. And, almost as if on queue, that decision turned the weather around and the sun came out.

About 5 miles later was a road crossing and my first stop to the On the Edge Farm. This wasn’t in any of the guides, except for a few comments in the Guthook app at the marker for the VT Route 12 Road crossing. But it was a hiker haven! Fresh pies and muffins, Hershey’s ice cream, candy bars, sodas, meats and cheeses, eggs, frozen burritos and more … not to mention picnic tables, a port-a-potty, water spigot, and trash cans. I healed my emotional wounds with some junk food and lemonade at the picnic table. And during that calming feast, the craziest thing happened. While I sat there, a mid-sized black bear ran across the road, crossed 10 feet in front of me, and jumped into the woods. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to stand up, let alone snap a photo. The bear just ran by, scared of traffic and clearly not scared of me. It was surreal, and I’m not fully sure it really happened. It might have been a ghost bear.

Still bewildered (but now much more alert), I crossed the road and headed onward. About 7 miles later, I came to the other farm with goods for sale. This was the much more we’ll-known Cloudland Farm Market, mentioned in all the books. But it was severely unimpressive compared to the On the Edge Farm earlier. They had some homemade soda, beef jerky, cheese, and pints of ice cream, but that’s it. Supposedly a restaurant opens later but I was not privy to that good fortune. So I bought a homemade raspberry soda and sat on the porch while I ate my boring tortilla and tuna packet lunch. Still, it was a relaxing break and beautiful view on this now sunny day. No ghost bear sightings.

At this point, it’s half past three, and I’m still 7 miles from West Hartford. I had fully made up my mind to stop there now, and reading comments in Guthooks again, found there is a trail angel named Linda who lives right on the trail and opens her barn to hikers for the night. I strolled in after 6pm and saw her big blue barn with a giant AT symbol above the doors just after crossing the White River bridge.

Linda, and 5 year old Alice, greeted me immediately with all sorts of delicious treats. Soda, cupcakes, coffee, dried fruit, pasta salad, and more. She filled me on the setup … a room above the garage with old mattresses, a TV set and a large collection of 80s and 90s movies. Walking in, it reminded me of a clubhouse where kids might hang out after school and learn about human anatomy together. It’s dirty and hoarding all sorts of junk, but it’s quiet and comfortable for an evening. I laid out some gear to dry, pushed thoughts out of my mind of what has probably occurred in here, then popped in Field of Dreams from the VHS collection to unwind to. Good movie.

Tomorrow was going to be a 16 mile jaunt through Dartmouth and to the Moose Mountain Shelter. With today’s shorter stop, it will be 20 miles instead. If I don’t do any more negative miles, it should be an easy day. If I pay closer attention to a compass, that is.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1719.3
  • Start Time: 7:40
  • End Mile: 1738.9
  • End Time: 18:15
  • Miles Hiked: 19.6 (+5.2)
  • Miles to Go: 452.0
  • Lodging: Trail Angel Linda’s Barn