field notes // vermont and new hampshire

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.

9 thoughts on “field notes // vermont and new hampshire

  1. Hang in there lady–I know that I haven’t been very vocal in your trek via the Overlanders, but I want to take this chance to tell you that I am immensely proud of you and Eric. You both are on a life-changing journey that many do not have the ability or the drive to complete–for even starting this, you have my respect.

    I only have a tiny sliver of a feeling of what it must be like from doing the 24-hour Mount Whitney Hike, and I can imagine you are feeling an overwhelming amount of anger, frustration and pain. The key is how you employ those feelings–use those feelings to fuel your drive onward and upward to the finish line! Remember that you are doing this for you–we are already proud of you, and want to you be safe on your journey.

    We are cheering you and Eric on to the finish line–we love you with all of our hearts, and think of you often. Good luck, and be safe!

  2. Alene Bryant says:

    Katherine, you’ve almost reached your goal so take a deep breath and trudge on. We’re all pulling for you and Eric. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Just keep thinking of how sweet the end will be and to know you conquered the trail.

  3. Valerie Primeaux says:

    Hang in there guys. I’m betting that your “10%” desire to continue along your journey is somehow like those classes from high school that mysteriously ~carry extra weight in the end! Pun intended. πŸ™‚
    What an amazing adventure, one that will surely change your lives. Enjoy your challenge.

  4. carol says:

    WOW, back at you! Wishing I was there instead of here. I am really sorry that I did not get to hike with you guys on this journey. The picture of all of you on top of Mt. Washington is so triumphant! I love it. Makes one realize what you will look like on Mt. “K” when you do the final summit of this journey/adventure. Pushing for you guys and sending all good energy your way. Hope 2nd, 3rd, and 4th wind has kicked in to put you in the zone. Push all negative thoughts/feelings aside. Focus on this one state. One foot in front of the other. Drink in the beauty. Think of all of us who are pushing for you both. When pain gets bad, start singing that childhood song “head and shoulders, knees and toes”. Well maybe scream it. πŸ™‚ Sit and rest but…..hike on!

    PS. Lalee is now 8lb, 7oz. You had her at 2lds, 4oz. Meow!

  5. Gloria says:

    I’m so proud of you two & yes, I can’t imagine the drive & determination it has taken to accomplish this hike! Just know that each day when I start my easy (physically) day I pray you are warm & dry to start your challenging day ahead. Your reward is near!

  6. Lois Maberry says:

    Your Mom said it all, Wow, you are almost there and the end is in sight, not physically but spiritually in your mind and plan. Continue to the end with strength and love and joy that is hidden deep inside you. This is a gift that you cannot savor until you have conquered it. Prayers for your strength .

  7. Cindy says:

    Thanks for sharing. Amazing as jut saying you hiked 2200 miles is, it is so much more. Your words are tremendous at capturing the emotional strains that go along with the journey. You have so many family and friends with you on the journey- thankfully we don’t weigh much as we hike along virtually. Continue following the dream- we’re all behind you!

  8. Lance - Lunatic says:

    Hello, it has been absolutely wonderful following you on this journey while sitting in the comfort of my living room. I can’t speak for all AT thru hikers, but I can speak for myself and many others when I tell you this last piece will continue to be difficult but also so amazing and rewarding. You’ll power through it; hungry, tired, sore, and emotional but you will make it – you know how to do so. Hike on! Also, please know your feet will most likely never be the same again. πŸ™‚
    -Lunatic (AT GA-ME 2009, JMT 2012, Long Trail 2013)

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