Twig Adventures

AT Day 28: Quad Blazing with Firewood Angel

Saturday August 21st, 2021, 0930-2000
RT 4 to Bully Brook, SOBO AT mm 513.7
24.8 miles
6522 gain, 7041 loss

I slept incredibly well considering a full room, including a few wheezers (women don’t snore, they wheeze). I didn’t even need earplugs. I felt so at peace all night but did have some interesting dreams…something in the tea or just really exhausted.

I was up early per usual, getting work done. I went to breakfast at 07:30 am, which consisted of more matte tea and coffee, homemade granola, yogurt and fruit. This is what I have for breakfast every morning at home so I really enjoyed it. I caught the first bus back to the trail and started hammering. Another tropical system was on it’s way and projected to become a hurricane, hitting New England late Sunday. It looked like I could squeeze in 2 good days of hiking, which would just get me to the next town…if I could pull a few 25 mile days. Starting so late in the day, I needed to move fast.

Aside from the first few miles, this was all familiar territory for me. We took an alternate from the Inn at the Long Trail last year, so this year I took the official AT route. There was nothing special about it and soon I was back to where the 2 trails met. It was a lot of uphill to Killington, the last mountain over 4,000′ for a long while. I took the side trail to the very top but was disappointed in the lack of views. Last year I could see the Whites and Camels Hump, but today I could barely see the nearby mountains through all the clouds. Oh well.

I met a GMC ridgerunner, Half Full, who was cleaning the nearby privy. He had his work cut out for him this year, with so much use of the trail and the lack of maintenance from the previous year, due to covid. He tried to convince me that the bubble of NOBOs was past, saying he’d only seen about 7 each day the last few days. Then I passed that many just on the other side of Killington. Altogether there were about 35 today. Everyone was saying that they were getting off trail for the storm and heading to the Yellow Deli. I was glad that I had moved on to open up a space. My plan was to make it to a ski hut for the worst of the storm…a mere 47 miles to the south.

I stopped for lunch at a cool stone shelter, a favorite of mine from last year. There I met a SOBO that I had seen at the Yellow Deli. His name was Mud Lantern and I was surprised that he’d made it this far so quick. He told me he was trying to do 25 miles, his biggest day ever, and that was all it took to change my mind. I was only going to hike 20 miles but having another SOBO to push miles with sounded fun. Mud Lantern carries a guitar along with a pretty big pack but moved incredibly fast. It was great to be with someone that could keep up.

We hiked all afternoon together and the miles went by quickly. We passed the 500 mile mark (took me exactly 1 month), then came to the shelter with the Firewood Angel from last year. I heard his quad coming up the way before I got there and decided that I had to stop to say hi. He didn’t remember me of course but it was great to see that he was still at it, delivering firewood to the shelter. He offered to give us a ride down to the road to shave about a mile of walking. Since I’ve already walked this part of the trail, I couldn’t resist. It gave me a chance to talk to Firewood Angel for a little bit longer and was also fun for the novelty. Ironically, it’s not even the first time I’ve quad-blazed. I got a ride through a farmer’s field on his quad in New Zealand. Mud Lantern was just happy for a break from his first really long day.

And here’s the photographic evidence of my quad-blazing…yes, I skipped a whole mile! At least I own up to it.

At the gorge, I decided to use the saved time to go for a swim in the river. I was drenched in sweat 30 minutes after leaving town, making me wonder why I even bother to take a shower and do laundry. The river swim was perfect timing, cooling me off just before a climb and rinsing the sweat away for the night. We stopped for another short break at an overlook of the Rutland airport, talking with some cool NOBOs. I took this nice picture of one named Birdie.

We still had about 5 miles to go at this point, so it was shaping up to be a late night. When the weather is nice and you know it may not be so nice the following day, it’s best to push. We did adjust our plans slightly to stop at a creek less than 1 mile from the shelter we had originally planned on. With as many NOBOs that we’d seen, we figured it would be full and we’d have to tent and hammock anyway. The thunderstorms that were predicated for today never really materialized and so it seemed like a nice night. It had rained for 5 minutes around 2 pm was all.

We stopped again at Minerva shelter (where I was first planning to end up for the day), just to cram some food. A couple packing a 10 month baby and almost 3yr toddler arrived. I asked if they were thru-hiking and they said yes! That’s 18 and 25 additional pounds they were carrying along with all their gear. I don’t know how they’ve done it this far and wondered how on earth they were going to get through the rest of this. The packs stuck up way high and as an umbrella user, I know how short the trail can be, especially in NH and ME. I’d hate to be bashing such prescious cargo into branches and rocks. How would they manage the Mahoosuc notch? And how do they keep the kiddos dry when it rains? Unfortunately we didn’t have time to ask all these questions, needing to move on. Wow, what an endeavor is all I can say.

Finally we arrived at the creek, just as I was needing my headlamp. We found the stealth sites…and a few NOBOs that were already there. No problem, there was a nice big flat spot left and I started to go for it. Then I was stopped by the NOBOs, who informed me it was reserved for their friends, who maybe were still arriving. This about sent me over the edge. It’s first come first serve at shelters and tentsites, which always works to the NOBOs advantage, since they have a feel for how many are in front and behind on any given day. And then when it suits them, they can hog additional space for their no-show buddies? I don’t think so.

I really wanted to prove this point to them and set up in that exact spot. But I also didn’t want to be in close proximity to such uber jerks. So I went down the creek as far away from them, finding a nice spot, if a bit uneven, under the trees. I had to clear some leaf and stick detritus, but I’m practiced at setting up in the dark at least. I’m so ready for the trains of NOBOs to die off. I’ve met so many nice people and had good times hanging out with them…case in point at the Yellow Deli. But this ridiculous competition for even a simple tentsite needs to end soon. It stresses me out, in an environment where I shouldn’t be stressed by such things. SOBOs like me are just looking for peace and solitude, not party trains.

The night ended on a positive note when Mud Lantern joined me for dinner. What a nice kid. He’s a recent graduate in Civil Engineering and already has a job lined up in Boston. He’s from Massachusetts and excited to be walking towards his home state. We aired our grievances against the NOBOs and compared notes about our experiences at the Yellow Deli. He also attended the dinner and had a good time. It was past 10 pm by the time I finally went to bed. A long but great day.

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