Twelve days ago I was sitting on a rock taking a break on my hike into Salisbury, CT. Along hikes this guy with headphone buds in his ears and a smile on his face. The following conversation ensued.
Jor: Are you a thru-hiker?
Jor: All the way from Georgia?
Jor: You seem too chipper for a thru-hiker.
After chatting with him for a few minutes and learning that his name was Code Walker, I said:
Do you mind if I join you for the last couple of miles into Salisbury? I don’t want to interrupt your groove or anything if you’re listening to awesome music or whatever.
to which he responded cheerily,
Oh no. I’m not actually listening to music. I have the ear buds in so that the buzzing of the bugs doesn’t drive me insane.
Thus did I meet Code Walker. Since then we’ve been pacing together on and off and have spent several stretches actually hiking together. Fast forward to a few days ago when the two of us were hiking up Stratton Mountain, Code Walker said, “You are moving, girl. Cool the weather down and Pfeiffer can make miles.” I replied, “I’m absolutely loving this. See, I can be chipper too,” to which he responded, “You’re beyond chipper. You’re absolutely ecstatic.”
And it’s true. I haven’t been this happy to be hiking the Appalachian Trail in literally months. I feel invigorated.
You know in the beginning back in Georgia when everything was new and exciting? “I’m making oatmeal in my JetBoil. Isn’t that awesome? I should take a picture!” “Do you see this bug? It’s almost, like, I don’t know, furry. Wow! I’m going to take a picture.” “I just climbed 500 feet in elevation up Blood Mountain. Oh my gosh, I’m really doing this thing. Photo op!”
Well, it’s certainly been a while since I’ve experienced that kind of enthusiasm for elements of the trail and trail life.
That all changed on my way up to Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. (And, by the way, Sit-a-Bit, your comment a month ago about Dalton being a turning point seems to have been prescient. It’s almost like you’ve done this before. 😉 ) I’d hiked from Dalton to Cheshire the day before to get a mail drop and a new sleeping pad (another leak in my Big Agnes Insulated Air Core). When I hiked out of Cheshire, I was carrying 5-6 days worth of food, but – I tell you what – my pack might as well have been empty. The weather was in the 60s, the terrain was uphill but undulating and forgiving, and I felt like I was just flying.
When I got to the top, the wind (yes, wind! not even just a breeze!) was chilly and blustery.
I even had goose bumps. Goose bumps! I saw at least a dozen thru-hikers up there, and every single one of them knew I had goose bumps because I was going around exclaiming, “Isn’t this awesome? Look! I have goose bumps! I love this weather!” Keep in mind that Code Walker was one of the hikers on the receiving end of my enthusiasm as he was huddled in his fleece and eyeing the door to the lodge, wanting to go inside.
Code Walker did end up going inside, and I walked over to the nearby overlook…
…to appreciate the view. The elevator to the top is closed for renovation, but the landscape was still worth the short stroll. What you miss from the photos is how quickly the clouds overhead were moving and evolving. It was mesmerizing.
That night the temperature where I camped (8 miles north of the mountain’s summit) dipped into the 40s. I was on Cloud 9. I put on my winter beanie hat, shimmied way down into my sleeping bag, and slept like a baby. The next morning I found a small patch of sun shining through the trees and hovered over my JetBoil, excited once again about a hot bowl of oatmeal. I’m not sure I can describe the exhilaration I experienced in warming my hands over my pot and basking in the morning glow.
Over the following several days, I continued to feel equally positive and strong.
I breezed into Vermont and passed the 1,600 mile mark on the same day. And let me tell you what: Vermont may be one of my favorite states so far. I’m absolutely in love with the mud. Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. I’ve already had more than a few funny looks from other thru-hikers when I profess as much. But seriously. The wetter patches of trail let me use my rock hopping skills (like a champ!), and the soft mud that stretches for miles has done wonders for my knees and feet.
I kid you not, I realized a few days ago at the end of a 17 mile day that I could bend the toes on my right foot for the first time in months. I mean, I actually have toe knuckles again. It might also be that the cooler weather has helped the swelling in my feet go down, but I’m not in the mood to over-analyze the awesomeness of the foot situation.
Oh, and did I mention that Vermont is beautiful? In the past few days I’ve hiked past a variety of ponds, including several beaver-dammed ponds whose surface rose up to my shoulder as I hiked past them…like this one.
I’ll admit that I’ve had fleeting anxiety over what would happen if any of these dams broke as I hiked next to them, but then I push those thoughts aside by assuring myself that, if there’s anything beavers know, it’s how to build sturdy dams.
Yesterday, I hiked into Manchester Center, VT and hitched a ride into town. Shortly thereafter Lentil joined me, which rounded out my awesome week. See, on the day I hiked to Cheshire, Lentil had stayed in Dalton and zeroed, so I’ve been hiking sans my hiking buddy for this most recent stretch. I’ve spent this week sheltering near Speed and MASH, Srocket and Mama Bear, and Shweazel and Invisible Man, among others. Lots of new faces, which has been refreshing, but I kept finding myself starting a story with, “You know Lentil, right?” The response was inevitably, “No, I haven’t met him,” which makes sense since I’d pushed into a different bubble of hikers.
So when Lentil arrived at the cafe where I was eating breakfast, I was excited to see the familiar face. And when, later in the day, we arrived at the Green Mountain House hostel to find Techie waiting there for us, I was completely floored. This trail definitely has a way of surprising me every single day.
The last couple of months have definitely been challenging and dispiriting. But it’s funny how quickly all of that melts away and how easy it is to fall back in love with the trail.