Wow. (Do I begin every post that way?) Just as I passed through the gate into the last stretch of trail, just when I thought I’d suffered and learned and experienced it all, just as we finally reached this fabled land of beauty and solitude, everything got really hard.
Vermont met us with three days and nights of dispiriting rain. I was exhausted going into Manchester, and plain angry going back out. I didn’t want to hike. I didn’t want to wear my bag. I didn’t want to trudge up any more stupid mountains. And yet, that was all that there was for me to do. I didn’t want to see any people, but they were all around. I felt like we were so close, and yet my will was running out.
There was my birthday. We hiked on it, but got breakfast at a diner in the morning. We got our first taste of the beauty awaiting further along on top of Killington Peak. I struggled physically more than I have all trail. I feel completely depleted, like I’m walking on dead legs. For awhile it was hard to eat–everything was just a nugget of corn and wheat and soy, in different shapes and textures, flavored sweet or savory, but all the same, really, and all poison. I always felt like I was walking through water, slow and heavy. I couldn’t imagine pushing my body along like that for another month. And all along the Whites were looming, their fear-inducing elevation profiles just a page or two away.
Going into Hanover I wasn’t entirely sure I would leave again. We took two unplanned zero days there, in an incredibly expensive hotel. I needed to rest mentally and physically. Animal and Jay hiked on. Eric’s college friend came down to visit. She’d hiked Vermont’s Long Trail before, and understood what we were going through. It helped to talk to someone who really and truly knew what we were dealing with. I felt encouraged.
The day we left Hanover a philosophical bagel shop owner gave us some advice: don’t be afraid, don’t let fear control you. We were feeling pretty afraid. Afraid we were too slow and too late to make it to Katahdin before they closed it or bad weather came in. Afraid my strength just wouldn’t last that long. Afraid we were about to fail. So we rallied, and fought all that, and hiked out of town.
My new determination didn’t last very long. I had trouble with my shoes, and my feet felt like they were falling apart. That made everything else feel like it was falling apart too. My pace was appallingly slow. With grim faces we decided we’d just have to get up and hike at my slow pace all day, every day, and get there as we could. But it felt hopeless. I was hurting and exhausted. Each day was infinite. But I kept getting through them. Ninety percent of me wanted to go home. That part whispered softly to me of rest, of laying my head down on a soft pillow. But ten percent of me had to keep going. Until my legs literally could not move me any further that part would keep going.
I got new shoes before we entered the Whites, and though I fear they’ll never be the same, my feet feel a lot better. I’ve also made a concentrated effort to eat a lot, all day, even when I don’t feel like it. I’m trying to get a lot of protein, but I’ll take any calories. I think those two things have helped with my strength a bit. I’ve made perfectly normal progress through the Whites so far. It’s incredibly hard hiking, and everyone else is faster, but we can still make it.
And just being in the White Mountains is thrilling. People have been talking about this place literally since Georgia and it’s not hard to see why. It is markedly more challenging but markedly more beautiful here. It is easy for the first time in awhile to get a sense of wildness. It’s rewarding to climb these sheer ascents and then break above tree line and be surrounded by green mountains and blue sky and white rock.
And also, we are so close. Unbearably close, and unbearably far. This journey is taking us a lot longer than we expected. It is asking a lot more now, than I bargained for. But I imagine this will make completion that much more triumphant. So for now, as ever, we just hike on.