DF: And we’re home. In some ways, it seems as if the whole trip never happened. We had dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s house the day after we got back, just like we did the night before we left. It seemed like just a few days had gone by, rather than more than four weeks. The whole experience seems to be fading away as we return to the daily routines: groceries, to-do lists, plans for returning to work…
As difficult as the trail was on most days, in many ways it was a lot simpler than life in town. There were a lot fewer things to deal with each day, and those things were very concrete–eat, sleep, get water, hike. I found myself overwhelmed on the Metro platform at Union Station because there were so many people and it was so noisy and busy, even at 11 PM.
I’m trying hard to keep the lessons of the trail in mind, especially the lessons we had to relearn almost every day: to be conscious and mindful of the now, to pay attention to what you’re doing, rather than trying to predict the future–when we’ll get to the next shelter, how long it will take to go the next few miles. Those kinds of things almost never worked out. We just needed to deal with what’s in front of us–roots, rocks, water, mud–and keep on going. When we remembered that, things did work out just fine, but usually not in the ways we had predicted or anticipated. If I can keep that in mind, I can keep the trail experience alive.
BC: What does it say that I hated the trail while I was hiking it, but have fond memories only a few days later? We’d never been to Vermont before this hike, and I liked everything about that beautiful state — in July, anyway. The Vermonters we met were open, friendly, and helpful, from the hipsters bartenders to the ski bums, the taciturn old Yankee farmers, and the hippies we met almost everywhere. The summer season in Vermont, like many northern states, is lovely. Cool nights, not too hot during the day, and all the locals are outside taking advantage of the weather all summer long. The little villages are beautiful, the craft beer is amazing, and there was a strong farm-to-table movement everywhere we went.
But the trail itself was a different story. I understand the desire to keep it a physically challenging trail, but this was taken to a ridiculous extreme, with much of the trail massively eroded after a century of non-maintenance. I remember a sign on the trailhead signboard at Hazen’s Notch which read “This section is maintained by the So-and-So trail club” and someone had hand written at the bottom, “Well, maybe they should start maintaining it, then.” That pretty much sums up my feelings about the Long Trail itself.
The experience of hiking a longer trail was worthwhile in other respects. This was the first truly long hike I did with my partner of more than thirty years – our longest hikes in the past had been 8 or 9 days, but mostly we’ve done weekend section hikes in the South. We quickly fell into an easygoing routine both in camp and on the trail. Even after a month of 24/7 togetherness, we were ready to keep going pretty much indefinitely. While a longer thru-hike will have to wait until retirement, we’re already planning a Camino de Santiago walk some time in the next few years.
I’m glad that I hiked the trail, and I’m already making plans for a return trip to Vermont to knock out that last 20 miles and enjoy more of the hospitality that we experienced during our month on the trail. Many thanks to all the Vermonters that we met along the way.