1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
I pass an interesting field of rock formations in the morning: a woodland gnome rock garden, according to my AT guide. By the end of today, I will be less than 500 miles from completing the trail. When I get to the 500 miles left mark, I take out my headphones, set down my pack, and make myself a little sign on a flat rock. There were many such signs down south when throngs of hikers frequented the trail. Few are left on trail to mark these milestones, and none have the same milestones as I, so I must make my own markers now. I gather some nearby twigs, break them into small pieces, and carefully form the numbers 5-0-0. I take two fern leaves and place them nearby. Then, with a sudden inspiration, I gather some yellow leaves and a red leaf, and set those down, too.
I meet two more Long Trail hikers that night at Peru Peak Shelter: Nibbles and Hobbit, from Canada and Germany, respectively. They'd met on the Camino. All three of us plan to stay at the same place in town tomorrow: Jen's place.
I make a mile marker for 1700 miles hiked the next day as I climb Mt. Bromley. The mountain is a popular skiing destination in the winter; in the summer, the gondola remains open for tourists. While heading down Mt. Bromley, I run into a couple hikers I'd met down south: Ironman and Thunder Buns.
It is no great distance to the parking lot from Mt. Bromley. A dayhiker I'd seen earlier gives me a lift to Manchester Center. There, I call Jen, who runs a small hiker hostel from her house. After showering at Jen's place, I head downtown to the bookstore/cafe, where I linger for a couple hours before walking back. Manchester Center seems like an upper-middle-class tourist town sporting local shops intermixed with higher end clothing stores. Shoppers fill the streets.
On my way back, I pass a man lying spread-eagled on the ground. Red shirt, green earphones, eyes closed. Feet dangling off the edge of the curb. A group of six people walks past at the same time I do, and we exchange startled glances. One young man in the group clearly wants to stop: he looks back multiple times, but his friends herd him on. I dally for a few seconds, think of all the times someone helped me on the trail, then turn back.
"Excuse me, sir, are you ok?" I ask, standing an arm's length from the man.
I'd want someone to do the same if it were me.
"I'm fine...Bless you." His words are easy enough to make out. I decide he's probably ok. "I love you, thank you for caring," he says as I walk away.
A hundred feet down the road, the young man who'd wanted to turn back stops me. "Was...that guy ok?" he asks.
"He said he was fine."
Awkward, but necessary, I think.
Nibbles, Hobbit, and I end up staying at the same shelter the next night: Stratton Pond Shelter. We share the shelter with a bunch of college students out for a 3-day hike.
The night is cold. Morning is no better. It will reach 27 degrees by the end of the day. Early in the day, I climb Stratton Mountain, home of a fire tower and caretakers' cabin. A couple lives up here during the summer and begginning of fall. Fog obscures any views from the fire tower. There is no sign of the caretakers. I quickly sign the trail register by the fire tower and leave.
That night, I'm tempted to throw my water bottles in my sleeping bag so I can warm them - drinking freezing water in the morning is not my favorite thing to do - but unsure if my bottles would leak, I refrain from doing so.
I wake before dawn; the sky is black when I set out. A fine layer of frost coats each fallen leaf, so that the leaves shimmer like glitter in the light of my headlamp. The crescent moon hangs low in the pre-dawn sky. I can see the faint outline of the full moon behind it, a patch of midnight blue in the darkness: earthshine.
I hurry over Mt. Glastonbury; I must reach the Bennington post office before 5:00 pm to pick up my mail drop. On the way down, I run into Twin. Both of us decide to stay at Catamount Hotel, splitting a room to lower costs.
After getting a late start the next morning - our shuttle driver needs to walk his dog before he can take us - Twin and I hike out. The foliage in Vermont seems past peak now, but I enjoy seeing the remnants of fall carpeting the trail. I pass Harmon Hill early in the day, then continue to a shelter 11 miles from the road. Nibbles and Hobbit said they planned to stay there tonight. The Vermont-Massachusetts border is an additional 3 miles, and Sherman Brook Campsite, another 2.
I want to reach the Massachusetts border today. So, I hike on. When I reach the border, I find Twin calling his family on his phone. We both hike past sunset, reaching Sherman Brook Campsite around 7:00 pm.
One more state complete.